The Importance of Career Technical Education: The Gap is Widening.

This past week I had the opportunity to be a guest speaker at the RTM CIO National Congress in Los Angeles, CA. I spoke about the importance of connecting local industries to education with an audience of educational leaders from all over the country.  I also experienced an economy and culture very different from the landscape in our local region.  Early each morning I walked through the streets of a thriving city with Career Technical Education (CTE) on my mind.  I witnessed workers cleaning the streets, security personnel patrolling the area, and employees preparing restaurants and retail establishments for the coming business day.  I was troubled tothink that all of these employees, that are vital to getting the city up and going for the day, will soon be replaced by automation and robotics.

I observed everything in the context of a book I started reading on the flight from North Carolina.  The book is title “The Industries of the Future” by Alec Ross.  Ross shares his experiences as a world-traveler and government employee and identifies industries that will revolutionize the global economies of tomorrow.  He stresses the importance of education preparing for the coming changes and paints a grim picture of what may happen if necessary steps are not taken immediately.  

For me, the most important take-away is the fact that many middle-class jobs of today will be gone in the near future.  Automation and robotics are already replacing many jobs that have historically been the foundation of the U.S. middle class culture.  This replacement process will accelerate and expand on a global scale over the next decade.

The U.S. Census data graph below shows that this replacement process has already started.  The number of U.S. young adults living in poverty has been on the rise for more than 15 years.  This trend does not align with a particular controlling political party.  The data does however correlate directly with the acceleration of technological advancements over the past two decades. It is clear that many operational requirements of the past are being replaced by advancements in computerization and automation.  These advancements are leaving many workers with obsolete skill sets and no hope for future employment.  This rise in poverty is widening the gap between the haves and have nots.

I believe the key to reversing this trend is to closely align education with the industry demands of the future.  We cannot continue to deliver the same training in the same format going forward. We must reach out to the local business community to establish new programs and delivery methods.  We must also deliver skills training that will attract new industries to our region.  Online and blended learning are here to stay and we can leverage new methods and platforms to offer our students more options.  Work-based learning is also key in connecting students to real-world training.  Problem solving skills in all areas are key to the future success of our students.  This type of training needs to start as soon as students enter elementary school.  Coding and automation need to become a part of each curriculum area and not viewed as separate subjects.  

If public education does not explore and embrace new possibilities, parents and students will choose other options.  This will leave the poorest of families receiving an education that has no value in terms of future employment, further widening the economic gap in our society.  The good news is that public education has the best teachers and resources to make this happen.  CTE is positioned to lead the way in this educational shift to measuring student success by employability skills instead of test scores.  

CTE is not the vocational programs of years gone by.  Today CTE offers computer science, medical sciences, engineering, robotics, and much more.  Parents should start exploring options early and work with teachers and career development coordinators to establish pathways to high-wage, high-skilled careers of the future. 

Posted on March 8, 2016 .