This post is written by Fleck Education, a Platinum Level sponsor of the 2019 Advance CTE Spring Meeting.
When the Career Technical Education (CTE) teachers and leaders I know first heard about the new Strengthening Career and Technical Education for the 21st Century Act (Perkins V) Local Needs Assessment requirement, their reactions were less than positive. That’s putting it kindly. Many expressed a mix of anxiety and frustration about “another new mandate.”
That sentiment makes sense: change is difficult. Being nimble and adaptable – the soft-skills we teach to our students – can be tough to put into actual practice. The biggest fear appears to be the “risk” of opening up local CTE programs of study to the opinions – and possible misunderstandings – of local employers, parents, leaders and community members. Maybe they’ll tell us how we should or shouldn’t fund our programs or think CTE is less rigorous than traditional school programs.
The reality is that all of us working with CTE already face these misconceptions on a daily basis, whether expressed verbally or not. The majority of people living in our communities have only a fuzzy understanding of CTE.
A potential benefit of the local needs assessment requirement is that many of these same community individuals will be invited to attend meetings where they will discover CTE’s amazing graduation rates, career readiness programs, and how CTE impacts students lives. When these local needs assessment meetings occur, it is likely you will hear misunderstandings and misgivings loud and clear. However, the meetings will also provide the opportunity to correct misinformation and present the full picture of CTE, along with data that shows what’s working well and the challenges that lie ahead. They’ll hear touching CTE student success stories and can reflect on how the obstacles are not just CTE challenges but also a community responsibility. By being at the table, stakeholders at your local needs assessment convenings will deepen their understanding of CTE and come to recognize their role in the support and ultimate success of CTE in your community.
To prepare, it is important to think through how you will handle the personalities of some of the individuals who may show up at your meetings, such as:
- The Naysayer. This individual doesn’t like anything being done in education. If every student graduated and transitioned to a career with a $150K annual salary, this person would still not be happy. Use facilitation strategies that allow for their input during the meeting, with limits, and offer a post-meeting discussion. “I appreciate your concerns and really do understand this frustrates you, so let’s talk about this more after the meeting…”
- The Usual. Often, but not always, the “usual” is that employer who says “All I need are employees who show up for work on time, every day, and pass a drug test.” Or “Just get them to me and I’ll teach them everything they need to know.” Be empathetic and suggest that they would be an ideal member of a task force to study this issue further. At some point, when it doesn’t come across as confrontational, reiterate CTE’s purpose of preparing students for the multitude of careers they may have in their futures, not just the skills for one specific job.
- The Misinformed. Some individuals still believe the only pathway to success is a traditional four year college degree leading to a white collar occupation. Anything else is setting students up for a life of disappointment. While it may be subtle, you’ll recognize their bias. These individuals typically come around when they review actual salary data and career satisfaction reports and meet students and adults who have succeeded through a variety of alternative pathways.
For all of these individuals, and for some of us too, the new local needs assessment mandate will require us to change our thinking and how we do things. It may be uncomfortable at first and will undoubtedly be tough. But it will also be an opportunity to substantially build the reputation, the quality and the overall success of our local and state CTE programs.
Thomas Edison said, “Opportunity is missed by most because it is dressed in overalls and looks like work.” When we look past the hard work the new local needs assessment requires, I believe we will uncover a significant opportunity to further enhance the value of CTE in our communities.