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California Community Colleges Strive to Break Stigma of CTE Jobs

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California community colleges
College of the Desert, via Wikimedia Commons

Lawmakers in California want to change the way people think about career and technical education. They are making a push to improve and expand CTE programs through the state’s vast community college system.

Over 2 million students enroll in the state’s 114 colleges each year. In 2016, the state approved a $200 million annual recurring investment to fund the expansion. Next month, a $6 million rebranding effort kicks off as a part of that Strong Workforce Program.

“In our travels around California, we heard loud and clear about the need for more skilled workers,” Van Ton-Quinlivan, the system’s vice chancellor for work force and economic development, said in a written statement last year when the funding was approved, according to Inside Higher Ed. “Enhancing career technical education and work force training to meet the demands of our regional economies and the statewide labor market will benefit students, communities and the entire state.”

The Goal Is to Improve Training Programs for Middle-Skilled Workers

The aim of the rebranding effort, which is just one part of the $200 million Strong Workforce Program, is to train and place 1 million workers in middle-skills jobs. These jobs are defined as ones that require education and training but not a four-year degree.

Do You Know What You're Worth?

Many career and technical education (CTE) jobs pay very well and require a lot of technical skills. Radiologic technologists, for example, enjoy a median annual salary of about $90,000 a year in the Sacramento area, according to Inside Higher Ed. Web developers and telecommunications technicians also enjoy competitive salaries. However, these aren’t the jobs, or the pay ranges, that come to mind for a lot of people when they think of middle-skill technical jobs.

Changing the Stigma Around Career and Technical Education

California is launching a new marketing campaign this summer to help change the way prospective students think about CTE programs and jobs. Some see vocational training programs, and the career trajectory that accompanies them, as an inferior option. One of the main objectives of this rebranding effort is to start to reverse that stigma, especially for women. They hold just 36 percent of middle-skill jobs that pay more than $35,000 annually.

“In the work force, there’s a huge drop-off,” Lynn Shaw, , an electrical technology professor at Long Beach City College who is helping lead the implementation of a work force program, told Inside Higher Ed. “Somewhere between women showing interest in nontraditional careers and getting into the work force, something happens.”

But, CTE jobs are on the rise and they offer a tremendous amount of opportunity. Thirty percent of California’s projected job openings by 2025 are expected to be middle-skill jobs. That’s a total of 1.9 million openings. And, they aren’t the physically demanding, dangerous, or relatively low-skill jobs that some still associate with career and technical education. In fact, many of these occupations will be highly technical — electricians, computer support specialists, mechanics, etc.

“I call it the California community college sweet spot,” Shaw added. “That’s what we do. That’s what unlocks social mobility.”

Changing Public Perception of CTE Jobs

The goal is to help shift the public’s perception of CTE jobs. It’s also to enhance and expand program offerings at the state’s community colleges. The program will involve:

  • curriculum revisions
  • faculty hires
  • more career planning support for students
  • more local control over curriculum
  • better data tools to understand student outcomes and the regional labor market

The hope is that these efforts will prepare California’s workers to take full advantage of the opportunities that will be available in the future job market.

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James Cohn
James Cohn

It is about time. Now if only the government would seriously fund infrastructure projects

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