Virginia Commonwealth University
September 26, 2011
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Joan Lovegren-O’Brien, MS.Ed.

“What do you want to be when you grow up?” This question is asked at least 100 times between kindergarten and the final year of high school. But seriously, “What do you want to be when you grow up?” is one key question that needs examination prior to leaving high school. A previous article written for Innovations & Perspectives about writing measurable postsecondary goals focuses on the importance of developing goals in training, employment, postsecondary education, and independent living. One way to ensure that postsecondary goals are met after high school is to follow a course of study that will assist you in meeting your goals. So, what does this mean to you?

This means that you, a student with a disability, need to research your postsecondary goals prior to finishing high school. One option for exploring your career choice is to select Career and Technical Education (CTE) classes. CTE can be legally defined, but for the purpose of this article a general definition is “…the method used by schools, particularly high schools, to organize their curricula so the students may develop skills, both vocational and academic, that will give them the strategic labor market advantages needed to compete for good jobs” (Castro, n.d.). That says it all, as academic and career skills work together!


Career and technical education — an option to consider!

As you think about this path to employment and further education, there are certain questions about CTE you should ask. Is CTE right for me? What does CTE include? What and who are available to help me? What coursework or other options are available in my school and community? Why should I consider CTE? And what are my chances of getting a job if I decide to participate in career and technical education? Let’s take a look at these questions, plus others, as we explore CTE.

Is CTE right for me?

Before answering the question, “Is CTE right for me?” let’s have a brief history lesson. Prior to the 2006 reauthorization of the 2006 Carl D. Perkins Career and Technical Education Improvement Act, P.L. 109 – 270 the name CTE was formally known as Vocational Education. The main focus of vocational education was how a person made their living. In the period between 1926 – 1976, vocational education programs reached out to wider interest groups including women, disadvantaged, ethnic groups, and people with disabilities. This encouraged more jobs in different fields. In order to organize the list of occupations, “clusters” were created (Barlow, 1976). With the 2006 reauthorization, the focus expanded beyond jobs. CTE began to connect academics with technical knowledge and skills that prepare you for continuing education and career choices in current or emerging professions. The newest version of the 16 career clusters can be seen in Figure 1. It includes all occupational areas for every type of profession. Within each of the clusters listed, there are pathways that might interest you. For example, if you are interested in hospitality and tourism, suggested industries to consider would be restaurants and food/beverage services, lodging, travel and tourism or recreation, amusements and attractions. Your next logical question would be, “How do I find out what is available in my community or school?”

What or who is available to help me?

To assist you in appropriate class selection, your school division typically offers a course planning or program guide. The Virginia CTE Resource Center, under the direction of the Office of Career and Technical Education at the Virginia Department of Education, also has resources that are helpful. If your school or regional technical center does not offer the CTE course that you are interested in, there are other opportunities you may want to consider (see Figure 2).

Figure 2

Community service refers to school-arranged volunteer opportunities for students that support their local community.

Internship is a work experience arranged by the school, but not necessarily part of a CTE class.

Job shadowing teaches students about a job by having students follow the schedule of a person who holds that job.

Mentoring refers to school-arranged matches with an adult in a career area who can give advice and support to students.

Online career searches utilize a variety of websites that provide information about careers – Virginia Education Wizard and
Virginia Career View are two examples.

School-based enterprise is a business run by students or teachers from a school.

Work-based learning provides supervised learning activities for students that occur in paid or unpaid workplace assignments and for which course credit is awarded.

Levesque, K., Laird, J., Hensley, E., Choy, S.P., Cataldi, E.F., & Hudson, L. (2008)

If you are unable to enroll in a CTE course, other tools are available. One is the new workplace readiness skills poster. In 2010, the Demographic and Workforce Group, Weldon Cooper Center for Public Service at the University of Virginia, conducted research that included surveying 300 employers. The result is the creation of the Workplace Readiness Skills poster. On the poster there are three areas highlighted:

  1. Personal qualities and people skills,
  2. Professional knowledge and skills, and
  3. Technology knowledge and skills.

Even if you don’t take a course, you can still learn the skills that Virginia employers are looking for, which could lead to being in a CTE class or getting a job. The
Virginia Education Wizard, a free online resource, can help you explore colleges, careers and other planning tools. Career coaches and guidance counselors in your high school can also help you.

Why choose CTE?

What would you say if I told you that the CTE Statewide Annual Performance Report from the school year 2009 – 2010 states:

  1. 29,057 students earned industry credentials, state licensures, or National Occupational Competency Testing Institute (NOCTI) assessments,
  2. 6,945 employers employed CTE students under the Cooperative Education Program (CO-OP),
  3. $31,392,791.17 total wages were earned by Virginia CO-OP students,
  4. 73.45 percent of CTE completers attend postsecondary education and advanced training, and
  5. 18.81 percent of CTE completers have transitioned to full time employment?

With these data you can see that over 92% of CTE enrollees are doing something productive after leaving high school. Those numbers are pretty impressive!

In summary, if you want to be “career ready” according to the Association of Career and Technical Education, you need three skill sets: core academic skills, employability skills, and technical skills (ACTE, 2010). One way to gain these skills would be to add CTE courses to your program of study. Your Individualized Education Program (IEP) includes postsecondary goals while you are in high school. Now you can coordinate your activities to include programs, experiences, and coursework to gain the competencies and skills you will need after high school. CTE is an exciting option – take a look!


“ACTE announces “career ready” definition,” (2010). Retrieved June 23, 2011 from

Barlow, M. (1976). 200 Years of Vocational Education 1776 – 1976. Association for Career and Technical Education (ACTE). Retrieved June 9, 2011 from

National Career Technical Education Foundation, (2011). Pathways to College & Career Readiness, Career Clusters: Sixteen Career Clusters and Their Pathways. Retrieved June 9, 2011 from The 16 Career Clusters pdf

Carl D. Perkins Career and Technical Education Improvement Act of 2006, P.L. 109 -270. (2006).

Castro, C. (n.d.). History of Vocational and Technical Education. Gale Encyclopedia of Education (2002). Retrieved from

Levesque, K., Laird, J., Hensley, E., Choy, S.P., Cataldi, E.F., & Hudson, L. (2008). Career and Technical Education in the United States: 1990 to 2005 Statistical Analysis Report (NCES 2008-035). National Center for Education Statistics, U.S. Department of Education, Washington, DC.

Demographic and Workforce Group, (2010). The New Workplace Readiness Skills for the Commonwealth. Retrieved on June 9, 2011 from

Virginia Department of Education, (2011). Office of Career and Technical Education Services: Career and Technical Education Statewide Annual Performance Report Perkins IV Performance Standards School Year 2009 -2010. Retrieved June 23, 2011 from



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