The Costly Stigma around CTE Programs

Removing the stigma around career and technical education (CTE) benefits students, parents, and teachers. But to do so, districts must be mindful in creating a multi-faceted communication strategy. School districts can change the perception of CTE if they know how to address the misconceptions.

When we look at other workforce stigmas, such as talking about salary, we can see how different approaches to combating them have succeeded. The strategies used to combat those stigmas should be similarly used to change the mindset around CTE—to normalize it, to communicate about equity, and to tell the story of success.

The belief that the only way to a good life is by earning a four-year degree assumes that CTE pathways and other routes are less desirable. Those in the field know that this is not true, but the bias comes from past experiences of outdated educational models. The “shop class” of yesteryear was viewed as both less rigorous and less valuable than traditional education. The same was true of “home making” classes, which were not career focused, but rather focused on women having the skills to stay at home and raise a family.

This is not today’s CTE.

Today’s woodworking, construction, robotics, engineering, automotive, and manufacturing classes promote technology, math, and advanced thinking skills. These classes can be just as rigorous as traditional math or science classes and can lead students to careers in high-wage jobs. “Home ec” classes have become culinary classes, textile production classes, and early childhood education classes—all leading to careers outside the home.

This is where communication becomes the main tool of many strategies to remove the stigma around CTE, including the following:

  • Telling the story. The first strategy to combat the CTE stigma is to tell the story of what truly takes place in the classroom. It can come from student interviews, video tours, photos of projects, or narratives about the learning process. Schools will begin to hear from parents, “We didn’t have this in school when I was a kid,” which is a significant first step in removing the stigma around CTE.
  • Informing about the opportunities. Students (and teachers) need to know the full spectrum of their career options as they plan for the future. They can learn this in the classroom through career exploration software like Choices360. Conversations with parents might be more focused on the financial reality of the student’s goal. Parents need to know the cost and whether a four-year degree will be worth it. A deep dive reveals that CTE pathways have more affordable tuitions and wages that are just as high as those of professional careers. But it isn’t just about entry-level wages; parents also worry about the future of advancement in the field. This is another misconception around CTE pathways—the entry wage might be good but that’s where it ends. With the help of a strong career research tool, students can see the connected fields to their CTE pathway and all the “next step” career opportunities that each one has, breaking through the misconceptions.
  • Recreating the work environment. The components of what a “good life” means can vary greatly among people. In general, it involves having a liveable wage and safe working conditions. When it comes to careers in the trades, modern shop floors are clean, well lit, and well ventilated. Equipment is ergonomically friendly and safe. CTE classrooms should have industry-standard equipment in the classroom, so when parents go on tours, they can unlearn any false beliefs that they may have about working conditions in these industries.
  • Focusing on future careers. The world of work has changed and will continue to be disrupted in the future. Parents must recognize that some of their ideas about careers are rooted in dated misconceptions. As students and teachers research and study more about forecasted job demands, parents can have their minds opened to what their students need to be successful in the digital and information age.

Changing the stigma around CTE requires intentional communication with students, parents, and teachers to change mindsets and offer opportunities. But it isn’t easy. It requires a consistent effort, which is well worth it when students exit CTE pathways into great jobs.

Here at XAP, we believe that exploration lays the foundation for planning. That’s why we help school and district counseling leaders implement equitable programs and strategies to ensure that students graduate high school not only with a diploma but also with a plan.

To see how we can help you better support your students and drive state, district, and school initiatives with greater ease, transparency, and data, feel free to contact our specialists today!

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