Career and technical education prepares local students for high-skill, high-demand careers

Published 10:20 am Wednesday, September 7, 2022

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A Brief history of legisaltion impacting career and technical education.

A brief history of legislation impacting career and technical education in the public school system.

Career, technical and agricultural education, or CTAE, has been around since long before it was given its very own acronym. It’s true that apprenticeships and on the job training gave way to a standardized public education, but with over a century of federally backed programs aimed at maintaining a highly skilled workforce, some could argue vocational style education never really gave up its seat at the table.

Recent changes to student debt repayment have thrust the conversation around college and career readiness to the forefront of national dialogue once again. Policymakers, educators, parents and students may or may not agree on what a higher education is worth these days, but frequently find common ground over the ever increasing need to turn out high school graduates that are career and college ready.  These terms are often used interchangeably, and discussions around career readiness are sometimes limited to traditional academic skills that allow students to successfully enroll in institutions of higher education.

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“There is no debate over the lifelong importance of academic proficiency, especially in math and literacy, but we’re also looking at all the components that allow a student to be considered career ready,” said BHS Principal Christopher Merritt.  According to the Association for Career and Technical Education, career readiness involves three major skill areas: core academic skills and the ability to apply those skills to concrete situations in order to function in the workplace and in routine daily activities; employability skills (such as critical thinking and responsibility) that are essential in any career area; and technical, job-specific skills related to a specific career pathway.

Merritt is particularly excited about the potential of the work-based educational partnership program established last year via the Bainbridge Chamber of Commerce, Bearcat Workforce. “One thing that we’re working through our CTE department this year is Bearcat Workforce, which was started last year. We learned a lot from it, and we’re looking to build off of those findings this year. We’re already in early planning for that to begin in January 2023. We’d love to connect with local businesses who understand our goal is that once the student finishes the program they could go get a job with that business. These are students that may decide they don’t want to go to college.” According to Merritt, local businesses were integral to the success of the program last year. “We had a lot of students get involved. And we also had several students, I think there was eight or nine, that went straight into getting a job. That was very rewarding to see. You know, eight kids’ lives were positively impacted by that. It’s a success.”

But it’s not only work-based initiatives leading the charge on educational innovation. Career, technical and agricultural education, or CTAE, has roots stemming from more than a century ago as a result of a need for an evolving workforce, but this ultra-traditional approach to skill-specific training is also undergoing a renewed focus in the public school system. Federal funding programs have long backed the goal to train students with relevant and in-demand skill sets, and now industry leaders are taking notice of the potential these academic CTAE programs have in better preparing students to become employees.

“Another area that we’re focusing on with our CTE department right now is industry certification. Industry certification would mean that we’d be considered a program of excellence by the Georgia Department of Education,” Merritt said.

“One of the questions we challenge our teachers to ask every day when they walk in this building is am I challenging my students? Am I preparing my students to go to college, go into the workforce, or go to the military? That’s what I’m asking myself every day. Everything we do is focused on this.”

Merritt believes that despite it being a tough time to be a professional educator that Bainbridge High School “does it right.”

“We have some of the best professionals I’ve ever worked with here,” he said. “The teachers here are some of the best.”