Career and Technical Education: Not Your Grandpa's Vo-Tech

May 1, 2019

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The United States is in dire need of a technically trained workforce. According to a 2017 report by the National Science Academy of Sciences we, as a nation, are not meeting the increasing demand from industries — a critical component for competing globally in the 21st century.

The need has been identified, but the solution can be a slippery one to define for several reasons. Historically, vocational technical training was limited to male dominated trade programs such as auto and wood shop. Today Career and Technical Education schools offer a variety of training opportunities to a broad population of students.

“But career and technical education is in some ways still caught in the shadow of what experts call ‘grandpa’s vocational school.”’

— Sarah Gosner, PBS Newshour


The list of stakeholders involved in developing innovative solutions are fragmented and diverse. It includes “educators; students; workers; employers; the federal, state, and local governments; labor organizations; and civic associations,” according to the NSAS. Getting these diverse stakeholders to work together effectively across educational systems and industries is a Herculean task. Coordination and cooperation between these large and small systems will be critical. But without it, industries will continue to face global competition pressures and students will continue to accrue staggering student debt with shrinking prospects of finding high paying skilled jobs. 

Ultimately, the return on investment must be worth it both for students entering CTE programs and for employers investing in these programs. Integration of academic education, technical training and hands-on work experience improves outcomes and return on investment for students in secondary and post-secondary education and for skilled technical workers in different career stages, the NSAS reports.

An example of this would be the increase in the number of colleges offering onsite and online certificate programs in technical fields such as the geospatial industry. These courses are being offered for traditional credits, continuing education credits and professional development opportunities. Foundational courses are also appearing through CTE and Science, Technology, Engineering and Math (STEM) curricula in high schools and even middle schools.

An important step for any technical industry is the development of industry standards. An example of this is the development of a national product for a specific industry called a Competency Model.

“The models serve as a resource to inform discussions among industry leaders, educators, economic developers, and public workforce investment professionals as they collaborate to:

  • Identify specific employer skill needs
  • Develop competency-based curricula and training models
  • Develop industry-defined performance indicators, skill standards, and certifications
  • Develop resources for career exploration and guidance.” (

The geospatial industry upgraded the Geospatial Competency Model in 2018. The first three levels of the competency model helps insure students entering the workforce have basic competencies such as literacy and numeric skills as well as teamwork and creative thinking skills. This model helps educational institutions develop teaching strategies that prepare students for all workplace situations. Then CTE classes build on these skills for industry specific employment.

Moving forward, this career gap exists in the present, as this new generation of technology-savvy students emerges. Their future needs must be supported as well, with financial aid for continuing education, on-the-job training, mentorship and professional accreditation opportunities. This continues to be especially true for underrepresented populations of students. The time is now to advance efforts to promote CTE, or the global economy will move on without us.  

Learn more

New Updates to Geospatial Technology Competency Model(GTCM) & the GEOINT Essential Body of Knowledge (2 webinars)

All You Need to Know about the New GIS&T Body of Knowledge (webinar)

Keeping Your Skills Fresh (collection of articles, podcasts and webinars)


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