BY JOSHUA FARMER firstname.lastname@example.org Hickory Daily Record
Posted: Saturday, November 7, 2015 1:00 pm
HICKORY - Career and Technical Education has often had a stigma attached to it; the idea that it is just for those students going straight to work after high school.
But Hickory Public Schools Career Development Coordinator Jeanne Turner-Simms says that is no longer the case.
“It’s not always the traditional path but it’s an opportunity for students who have skills and, obviously, intellect and ability in a different direction, and we need them,” Turner-Simms said.
Turner-Simms said everybody needs some type of post-secondary training, even if it is not a four-year degree.
“I’ve always been passionate about what I do because I know that it’s valuable,” Turner-Simms said.
Turner-Simms said there has been a push at the state level to increase the number of students in CTE to help foster a skilled workforce and attract businesses to North Carolina.
There have been several awards and scholarships created to spur recognition of CTE students, including a career endorsement on a student’s diploma. Students must complete a CTE concentration and earn an industry-recognized credential, among other academic requirements for the endorsement.
At the national level, President Barack Obama expanded the Presidential Scholars program in June to include students in CTE.
Turner-Simms said the idea is to meld the academic side with more directly applicable education.
“There’s relevance to the real world,” she said. “But we’re able to help them build relationships and build interpersonal skills that can help them be successful in any walk of life, whether it’s college or work.
“When we’re talking about programs in school, we’re not just talking about just what they used to call the old vocational classes that students can go in and learn shop or they learn how to cook or they learn how to sew. We’re actually giving them transferable skills that they can take from one job even to another.”
Turner-Simms said arguments that she hears from students against taking CTE courses focus on the lack of honors credit available, fearing college admissions boards will not see the classes as serious preparation for higher education. But Turner-Simms says that’s not the case and that CTE programs have added more classes with honors weight.
Despite the stigma that comes along with the courses, which may lead to internships or apprenticeships, Turner-Simms said colleges may look more favorably on CTE students who have had more unique experiences than someone who just has good grades.
“(The value is) in the person,” Turner-Simms said. “What have they done?”
Catawba County Schools is also heavily invested in CTE. The district boasts the largest work-based learning program in the state.
Recently, it has upped its business partnerships to around 180, has more than 700 students in CTE, and 3D printers in all its high schools. “We have so many businesses here from so many different industries that need employees and in education,” said Mark Story, CCS CTE director. “We haven’t always aligned to those needs, so over the last few years, we’ve been trying to work really hard at trying to line up our needs in the county with our education system.
“If there is a need, we will align to it,” Story said.
Story said the focus needs to be on preparing everyone to eventually enter the workforce, and for some, CTE is that pathway.
North Carolina’s statewide four-year graduation rate is 20 percent, he said. New York is the highest at 37 percent.
“We need to start focusing on that other 80 percent and give them skills for these high-wage jobs to keep our economy growing,” Story said.
Even if a student goes through a course and still decides CTE isn’t for them, Turner-Simms said the experience is still valuable.
Turner-Simms gave the example of one of her students who had her heart set on being a pharmacist. The student was placed in a job-shadowing program with a pharmacist, but discovered halfway through that she had changed her mind.
“She said this was not a good experience and I said, ‘But, it was,’” Turner-Simms said. “Because, had you gone to school and started paying all that money to go toward pharmacy school and then you got out and then decided that’s not what you want to do, you would have had to start all over.”
Because education has preached a need to go to college for so long, students think they need to go to a four-year school, Turner-Simms said. But there are more options that can be taken seriously, including two-year programs and CTE.
“There are so many avenues to get into the workforce now that are underestimated and undervalued,” she said. “We just want to be able to provide some accommodations for students to get to their end goal, whatever it is that they want to do.
“There is something in CTE for everyone that will help them beyond high school,” she said. “We just need to show people different pathways.”
“With CTE, we’re constantly changing and adapting to the needs of the workforce to make sure that we are providing quality programs to help provide the employees for the next wave,” Turner-Simms said.
Catawba County has the eighth-most manufacturing jobs in the nation, with close to 30 manufacturers in the area.
“In Catawba County, we are very fortunate that CTE comes to the table with our Workforce Development Board, with our community college, with our Chamber of Commerce, with some of the major economic development players here to make sure that we are preparing students,” she said. “We’re funneling them through a channel that provides hope for jobs in our area.”