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Friday, January 25, 2013

Tony Evers: Reinvigorating career and technical education


By Tony Evers
In Wisconsin and across the nation, employers are warning of impending shortages of workers in several specialized careers. Public education can help fix this problem as we reinvigorate the state's high school Career and Technical Education programs.

While a bachelor's degree is an important path to lifetime success and family-supporting careers, it is not the only route. Students and parents need information about diploma and apprenticeship programs, technical college degrees, and industry certifications that require less than a four-year degree but also lead to a good life and a successful, rewarding career. Information and outreach are important parts of reinvigorating CTE. Last October, about 20 manufacturing facilities across the state opened their doors to provide a new perspective on a variety of technical careers. Courtesy of a job-training grant, Western Technical College in La Crosse supported a video series,

"Max & Ben's Manufacturing Adventures," to help middle school students explore technical careers. Sustaining and expanding these types of efforts will require collaboration among all CTE partners.

When we reinvigorate CTE, we're not just training students for high-demand jobs. The 16 career clusters, which are broad occupational groupings, provide high school students with rigorous academic preparation and skills for success in college, career, and civic life. CTE gives students hands-on experience, developing the "soft skills" like punctuality, teamwork, and problem-solving that employers say they want and are needed throughout life.

Because CTE programs must be at the forefront of innovation and industry standards, they can be expensive and have been hard hit by education funding cuts. Our most recent staffing survey showed a 6 percent cut to career and technical education positions in one-year's time. CTE needs a financial investment, which I've requested in my 2013-15 education budget. But, CTE also requires renewed partnerships with our state's technical colleges, businesses, and industries. The programs I visited for last year's CTE Month observance overwhelmingly had strong connections with the local technical college and nearby employers. I expect to see similar partnerships when I tour programs in western Wisconsin, the Fox River Valley, and southeastern Wisconsin during February's CTE Month observance this year.

Career and technical education aligns talent development, job opportunities, and workforce needs, supporting economic growth throughout the state. During February's Career and Technical Education Month observance, and throughout the coming year, let's work to reinvigorate CTE.

-- Evers is the state superintendent of public instruction.

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