By Dr. Amanda Holdsworth, Executive Director of the Michigan Association for Career & Technical Education (MI ACTE)
At the William D. Ford Career-Technical Center in Wayne-Westland Community Schools, Principal and District Career Technical Education and Early College Director JaCinda Sumara has seen enrollment grow from 698 students in Fall 2021, to 1,021 in Fall 2022. Through efforts to increase both awareness and communication with partner districts, her team has found that students are becoming increasingly interested in learning about and experiencing potential careers before they graduate high school.
Career and technical education (CTE) in Michigan plays an integral role in helping to close the skills gap in the state, so any enrollment increase is encouraging news because, according to the Association for Career & Technical Education (ACTE), 54% of jobs in Michigan require skills training – more education than high school but less than a four-year degree; however, only 48% of Michigan workers are trained at this level.
That being said, CTE programs across the state provide programming and extracurriculars that not only align with the current skills shortage but also prepare students for the future of work in engaging, hands-on learning environments.
For example, at the Wilson Talent Center in the Ingham Intermediate School District, Automotive Technology teacher (and the 2023 Michigan ACTE Lifetime Achievement Award winner) Scott Westenberg built an industry Advisory Board to ensure his students are using the latest technology to diagnose and maintain vehicles and that they have the most up-to-date tools and parts. His business partnerships provide a wide variety of vehicle types to work on, including older models, hybrids and even an ambulance.
Westenberg took learning a step further when he created a motorsports team for students to join. Through this program, he has provided leadership and scholarship opportunities and built a culture of comradery for his students, finding ways for them to compete as a team while racing against other schools.
And we have new CTE teachers entering the field, bringing with them an eagerness to share their industry and subject matter knowledge with students. Like Joshua Fabera, the 2023 Michigan ACTE New Teacher Award winner and a CTE graduate himself, who is giving his Computer Networking and Cybersecurity students hands-on experiences right on campus at the Saginaw Career Complex in Saginaw Public Schools. He has already worked with his students to recreate the school’s website, utilized the school’s Building Construction program to design and build a networking wall and implemented classroom monitoring software in multiple programs.
What students and parents have come to realize through increased awareness is that CTE schools, campuses and programs have something to offer every student. Interested in becoming a nurse or doctor? Enroll in a Health Sciences program. Do you have dreams of becoming an engineer? Check out your local Mechatronics, Robotics or Engineering CTE program. Would you like to explore what it’s like to be a teacher? Many schools have Future Educator programs where students can complete practicum hours in traditional and preschool classrooms while earning their Child Development Associate credentials. Interested in making an excellent living while going right into the workforce after high school? Explore the highly sought-after skilled trades programs, many of which offer work-based learning experiences.
Jasmine Mehta, a 2021 graduate of Northville High School and William D. Ford Career-Technical Center’s Health Occupations program, quickly realized the benefits of CTE when she received direct acceptance to the University of Michigan-Flint’s Nursing program.
“The teachers and staff prepare you for both your career and higher education,” Mehta explained. “I felt steps ahead of classmates and went into the program with confidence instilled and the support of my teachers.”
As we celebrate CTE Month, it’s important to remember – as Mehta experienced -–that CTE can be a path to both college and career. Whether a student is interested in the skilled trades; creative fields like photography, media production or graphic design; IT industries such as cybersecurity or game design; traditional business fields like marketing and finance; or programs in hospitality, tourism and culinary arts, career and technical education is something every student should have the opportunity to experience.
According to Advance CTE, 97,407 secondary students are enrolled in a CTE program with a total of 64,365 CTE concentrators. And the four-year cohort graduation rate in Michigan for these CTE concentrators? An astonishing 95.8%.
Let’s work together to share these incredible (and seemingly endless stream of) success stories. If you haven’t already, please get to know more about your career and technical education programs, its teachers and staff, and, perhaps most importantly, its students and alumni. I began working with CTE campuses in 2016, and I was overwhelmed with comments from students such as, “This school feels like home,” “I feel safe here,” and “This program is the best thing that ever happened to me.”
I’ve sat with parents crying tears of joy because of the opportunities CTE programs have given their children – at no cost to their families. Years ago, one mother shared with me that her son, a recent Welding program graduate, was helping support their family after her husband unexpectedly passed away. Her son had a job offer before he even left high school because of his work-based learning placement.
Success is different for everyone. So why not give all students a chance to succeed in their own way, and empower them to explore at least one career and technical education class?
To learn more about CTE in the State of Michigan, please visit the Department of Education’s Office of Career and Technical Education website, and be sure to download the Association for Career & Technical Education’s “CTE in Michigan” 2023 fact sheet.
I also encourage you to explore ACTE and MI ACTE memberships for you and your CTE staff and teachers. For only $100/year, members get access to an extensive network, resources and live and virtual training opportunities at both the state and national levels. If you have any questions or ideas, please reach out to me.
Dr. Amanda Holdsworth is the Executive Director of the Michigan Association for Career & Technical Education (MI ACTE). She spent more than 20 years in educational communications and marketing at both the K-12 and higher ed levels before shifting her focus to CTE. To learn more about MI ACTE, please visit www.MIACTE.org.