For years, vocational education was dismissed as a path into blue-collar jobs for students who weren’t going to college. But as career-training programs have become more diverse, and educators have acknowledged the benefit of practical skills-training for a wider variety of students, perceptions of vocational education are changing. Now policymakers are pointing to vocational training as a cure for what ails many American high schools.
That’s because well-designed programs can prepare students both for college and for skilled jobs—the Holy Grail for success in today’s economy. Over the past few years, states from California to Georgia have invested in building connections among high school coursework, postsecondary education, and job experience. Some employers, seeking skilled workers, have invested in partnerships with local school districts to develop more robust training programs.
The recession—with its combination of high unemployment and skilled jobs going unfilled—helped renew interest in career and technical education, says Kimberly Green, executive director of the National Association of State Directors of Career Technical Education Consortium. “That combination really started a new conversation,” she says. “It’s a conversation where employers are much more engaged.”