The U.S. has a two-pronged labor market problem: a labor shortage and a skills gap. If every unemployed individual in the U.S. found a job right now, there would still be 4 million open jobs. Furthermore, a National Federation of Independent Business survey found that 54 percent of business owners struggle to hire qualified workers. As it becomes increasingly evident that schools are not providing students with the requisite skills to succeed in the labor market, the root of the persistent labor shortage and skills gap in the U.S. can be traced back to the K-12 education system.
However, career and technical education (CTE) programs have shown great promise in addressing this issue. The Department of Education (ED) notes that students who focus on CTE courses in high school have higher median annual earnings, graduation rates, and employment rates than non-CTE students. Despite the proven efficacy of CTE programs, inadequate federal investment remains a primary barrier to implementing successful programs nationwide.
It’s essential to adopt new funding methods and policies to mitigate this barrier, expand CTE programs in K-12 schools, and encourage widespread adoption of these programs to bridge the skills gap and foster student success. Like most education programs, CTE programs are primarily funded by state and local resources. Accordingly, increasing the implementation rates will be predicated on encouraging outside funding sources, such as private-sector partnerships and philanthropic organizations, to bridge the gap in federal funding and support the growth of CTE programs.
Additionally, refining the federal funding model to focus on equity grants and improved metrics, such as the number of program completers and certifications issued by a school district, can help incentivize schools to implement and expand CTE programs. Furthermore, reducing the stigma around CTE programs and promoting their value as viable pathways to success will encourage more students to participate and benefit from these opportunities, ultimately contributing to a better-prepared workforce and a more robust economy.