The Alabama State Department of Education’s Career Tech Education (CTE) and Workforce Development programs are growing, and those in charge of the programs are hoping that growth will continue.

College isn’t for everyone, but assistant state superintendent for Career Tech Education and Workforce Development Jimmy Hull said career tech programs could also help those who do aspire to get a college degree.

There are over 4,100 programs offered at various schools in the state. In fact, every school system in the state offers some type of CTE program. These programs help equip students with life and work skills.

While most CTE programs are at high schools, there are middle-grade programs available.

Programs for Middle Grades

The Carl D. Perkins Career and Technical Education Act of 2006 (Perkins IV) offers federal funding to states to improve career tech programs. As part of a re-authorization of the act, Hull said states are mandated to offer career tech programs as early as fifth grade.

“One of our big focuses here at the department is to increase and improve middle-grade programming, so we’re offering competitive grants mostly built around using STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math) as the vehicle to deliver career tech programming across the state in middle grades,” outlined Hull.

Hull said it is important to expose students from fifth to eighth grade to options, so they are working to expand those programs.

Preparing students earlier is just part of what CTE programs do in Alabama. Student organizations also participate in conferences and competitions across the nation. In fact, Mary Katherine Gunn, a student at Elberta High School, is currently the national president of the FCCLA (Family, Career and Communities Leaders of America).

Investment in the Future

The Alabama Legislature supports CTE in the state through funding. Hull said that funding is justified by the results.

“The economy of the state is obviously very, very important and education is the foundation of a successful economy and a successful workforce so, when the State Legislature gets behind our programming and helps support it through special funding through a career tech initiative line item, it only allows us to provide a better job providing career tech programming across the state,” explained Hull.

Being college and career ready is an important step for students as they prepare to graduate. Ken Sealy, the Education Administrator for Workforce Development said no matter if the student wants to go to college or go right into the workforce, there are benefits to participating in these programs.

“Career tech is about a student’s future,” Sealy emphasized. “It’s not just about what’s going on at the school. I  mean, that’s one of the biggest differences in career tech, because the focus is work after you finish going to school, whether that is right out of high school or if they go to college and get a master’s degree. Career tech is valuable for every student because that’s what we do. Work skills and employability skills.”

Sealy said students leave CTE programs understanding the culture of work and how to be successful employees or business owners.

“It’s one of the critical pieces of the entire work development puzzle,” Sealy added.

Beyond Graduation

In Alabama, Hull said some career tech courses can count as required credits for graduation.

Some CTE programs even offer students the opportunity to start work right out of high school while they are earning their degrees. Students can earn credentials to do a job they are interested in, such as health care, and work their way through college.

“You have to go to college to get your RN or your LPN but there are intermediate steps,” Sealy stated. “So, you could right out of high school be trained for a CNA or a patient care tech. One of the benefits, especially in a health science program, is a student gets to see if that’s something they like to do. If it is, we can offer them a credential that will help them right out of school. Or, they get the experience and realize that’s not what they want to do.”

Sealy said a lot of times, CTE program leaders are asked to help students figure out what they want to do and he said that is a difficult task. He added that while they can expose students to different opportunities, they have to figure out what they are interested in on their own.

“A student gets to learn about the adult world faster and we are able to show them how things are put together and how things work,” Sealy said. “I think that is very valuable.”

“It’s really important because many times students, particularly in rural areas really don’t know what opportunities are even there,” Hull added.

Academy of Craft Training

The Alabama State Department of Education’s Career Tech Education (CTE) and Workforce Development leadership is discussing opening new centers for commercial construction, similar to the ones in Jefferson and Mobile Counties called The Academy of Craft Training. The state partners with the Building Contractors Association and AIDT (Alabama Industrial Development Training) to train students and get them to work.

Ty Summers graduated early from Clay-Chalkville High School in 2017. He went to work after school thanks to completing the Academy of Craft Training.

"Honestly, it was just getting my foot in the door and knowing I could do it," explained Summers.

Not only did he earn the skills he needed to become an iron worker and welder, but he also gained skills in masonry.

"I'm very thankful," declared Summers. "These are definitely skills that not many people have anymore. I did the brick masonry course and my father was a brick mason so it's always nice to have an extra skill."

Summers now works for Alabama Professional Services but hasn't forgotten those who helped him get where he was going.

"I appreciate Mr. Charles Webster, one of my teachers," Summers said. "He was my masonry teacher but he also found us little gigs outside of school and we had jobs where we could lay brick. I still call him when I have questions and he calls me every now and then to keep up. He's a great guy to look up to."

When it comes to looking into CTE programs and the Academy of Craft Training, Summers advised students that the programs offer a great future.

The next proposed Academy of Craft Training Center would be in the Decatur/Huntsville area, and Hull said they are also considering creating a mobile academy to allow for CTE options in more rural areas.

Every CTE program offers a type of training that will allow students to work right out of high school.

Programs that are offered vary from school to school and county to county, depending on resources. Some of those programs include architecture and construction, agriculture, automotive, business, cosmetology, management, education and training, finance, health science, information technology, public safety, marketing, welding, transportation and distribution and logistics, among others.

Alabama Public Television will spotlight eight of the CTE programs in a special on November 6.

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