October 6, 2020
With economic hardship brought on by the COVID-19 pandemic, it is more important than ever that states are thoughtful and deliberate in how they are investing in the development of their workforce. To delve into this important topic, we welcomed Lt. Governor Spencer Cox (UT), Lt. Governor Michael Kehoe (MO), and Jennifer Ellis of the XQ institute (graciously filling in for Russlynn Ali) to dive into the importance of workforce development and career and technical education (CTE) in the face of the pandemic.
“We need to identify where the hearts of young men and women are. We need to stop trying to put a square peg in a round hole. We need to lift up kids that want to go to a career/technical college.”
– Missouri Lt. Governor Mike Kehoe
Both Lt. Governor Kehoe and Lt. Governor Cox named the stigma facing career and technical education as a hurdle that must be overcome. There are a number of high-paying careers that only require a credential or certificate, not a four-year degree, yet the prevailing perception is that success is dependent on a bachelor’s degree.
In Missouri, the state works to match career and technical educators with employers to ensure that training and credentialing programs at both the high school and postsecondary level are aligned to the needs of both students and 21st century industry. Recognizing the need to make these programs more affordable, Missouri established its A+ Scholarship program, which provides scholarships to eligible graduates of A+ designated high schools who attend a participating public community college or vocational/technical school. The state also waived requirements that students may have been unable to fulfill due to pandemic-related school closures, ensuring that students who were relying on the program to pay for college were still able to do so. Lt. Governor Kehoe urged for increased collaboration between high school CTE programs and local community colleges and vocational/technical schools to align their curriculum and streamline the transition for students making the leap to college.
In Utah, the state is developing an ad campaign to change the narrative around internships, apprenticeships, and CTE and educate students and their families about the opportunities that exist in this field. Adding that a PR campaign alone is not enough, Lt. Governor Cox charged public officials to continue to use their platform to talk about the amazing opportunities that already exist in their states, and facilitate conversations between business and education leaders to make these pathways more accessible and affordable.
“We want to teach kids how to fish, not give them fish – but we give some kids bass boats and the best stuff available, and we give other kids a stick and wonder why they don’t become good fishermen.”
– Utah Lt. Governor Spencer Cox
A major theme of the conversation was that it is incumbent on policymakers and school leaders to ensure there is equitable access to these school-based job training programs. Access for all students is critical, and leaders must be thoughtful in how they invest in programs that provide these opportunities for students regardless of their background. In Utah, Lt. Governor Cox highlighted efforts in Utah to develop targeted pathways for students in underserved districts, including partnering with companies like Boeing and Northrop Grumman to create work-based learning experiences for students in communities that are facing higher poverty rates. In addition, the state has worked diligently to translate materials for students and families for whom English may not be their first language and conduct outreach into these communities to learn more about their needs.
“CTE can have a tremendous impact. There can be payoffs for entire state economies. Opportunities should be high quality and focus on jobs in demand. Students deserve an education that meets their needs now and sets them up for a great career tomorrow.”
– Jennifer Ellis, XQ Institute
Workforce development needs vary regionally, and in rural areas that have not equally shared in our nation’s recent economic prosperity there is a need for expanding school-based job training programs to meet 21st century workforce needs. Noting that agriculture today is not the same as it was for his father, Lt. Governor Cox pointed to how technology has changed the way farmers engage in their daily work, including automation of farm equipment that would require additional skills for students who want to pursue a career in agriculture. In Utah, the state has worked to provide additional opportunities to diversify rural CTE curriculum beyond a focus on agriculture to include other skills and industries that can illuminate other pathways to a stable career that doesn’t require an exodus to urban job markets.
For a state like Missouri, in which agriculture is the primary industry, Lt. Governor Kehoe added that community colleges and technical schools will have an important role to play in up-skilling both our young people and those who may be returning to college as an adult. Further, Lt. Governor Kehoe foresees a return of manufacturing, especially in rural areas, and building the skill base of the workforce can drive these industries back into our rural communities.
To hear more about how these two leaders are supporting Career and Technical Education through this crisis, checkout the full recording below.