Each February, educators and businesses across the country highlight the importance and relevance of long-standing education programs preparing millions of students for success beyond high school.

Career and Technical Education (CTE) Month® is a public awareness campaign coordinated by the Association for Career & Technical Education (ACTE) to call attention to and celebrate the value of CTE and the achievement and accomplishments of CTE programs across the country.

These programs provide students with authentic, hands-on instruction in their field of choice, giving students a real look at what a career in the trade is. Every CTE program at Questar III includes job shadowing, internships, and a professional portfolio for students to showcase their work. As the need for skilled trade jobs continues to increase, there is a renewed push for growth and acceptance of CTE programs as not only necessary, but rigorous, hands-on programs that include high-level academic work.

Perhaps the highlight of our CTE programs is the opportunity they afford our students to earn industry-standard certifications through the curriculum, giving them a head-start on finding a job after graduation. Criminal Justice students can earn their First Aid and CPR certifications, pre-assignment security guard license, public safety telecommunicator I and NIMS Incident Command for Law Enforcement certifications. Students in the Culinary Arts program earn the ServSafe® Food Safety Certification among others, EMT/Health Careers students leave the program with their AHA Basic Life Support, CPR and AED certification as well as NYS Department of Health EMT-B and First Responder Certification. Upon completion of the Heavy Equipment Operation & Maintenance program, students can earn their CDL-B, provided they are 18 years old and have a class D driver’s license.

Two HVAC students work on a project at CGEC in Hudson.

The reality is jobs in these trades are not being filled quickly enough, and BOCES programs like ours help to close this gap. Students come out of our programs a step ahead of many others when it comes time to apply for a job, and ready to hit the ground running once they are hired. While at one time, students were told college was a necessity to find a job, the fact remains there are 44 million so called “middle skills” jobs that pay more than the national median income.

Programs that prepare students to fill these jobs are not only good for the student and their family, but also the community as a whole. By scaling up these programs, we are preparing a new generation of American workers for success – and allowing regional and local communities to effectively shape the workforce. These middle skills jobs make up one-third of all jobs in the United States, have an average salary of more than $45,000, and are projected to remain in demand in the future.

We rely heavily on our community partners to help ensure the success of these important courses. Our consultant committees are made up of representatives from related businesses, and meet regularly with teachers to discuss industry changes, the direction of the business, and what they are looking for when they hire new staff. I encourage you to look at the array of volunteers who provide us with this important feedback.

Our programs do more than simply teach the necessary skills for a particular field. We include integrated academics, which allow our students to earn credits necessary for high school graduation through their CTE coursework in a way that relates directly to their chosen field. For example, culinary arts students learn math by dividing and multiplying recipes, cosmetology students may learn chemistry through mixing dyes and other cosmetic products, and HVAC students may write a paper on efficient heating/cooling systems and their impact on the environment in ELA.

Construction students at REC work on a shed.

Construction students at REC work on a shed.

All CTE programs also emphasize teamwork, collaboration and problem solving, along with various soft skills that are transferable to any given career. By not only teaching our students how to run a piece of equipment, build a shed, or properly do a manicure, we prepare our students for success no matter where they end up when they leave us. Many students have plans unrelated to their CTE program in college but use CTE to create a solid backup plan for themselves should their original career goals not pan out.

Today’s CTE programs are essential to keeping the pipeline of tomorrow’s workers flowing. These are jobs that will always be needed, and lead to careers that can be quite fruitful, often with minimal or no college – and little to no college debt.

The days of learning a trade to just “make it through” high school are no more – students enrolled in CTE courses deserve to be applauded for their drive, technical ability and academic achievement, not derided for taking what might have once been the easy way out.

As we celebrate CTE month, let’s recognize the value of our Career & Technical Education programs and what they provide to our students, their families, and our communities. It is also important to thank our school, community and business partners who help keep our programs current so our students can find in-demand jobs after graduation.

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