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Aligning Career and Technical Education with Meaningful Employment Opportunities

May 11, 2020

SRI International
   Julie Harris, REL Appalachia

Aligning CTE program offerings with the labor market creates a strong pipeline from high school to postsecondary training and meaningful employment opportunities in high-wage or high-demand occupations. Identifying and understanding this alignment can be a challenge for education and workforce policymakers and stakeholders. The West Virginia Department of Education recognized that creating strong alignment between CTE programs and meaningful employment can transform the way they prepare the next generation of West Virginia's workforce and partnered with Regional Educational Laboratory Appalachia (REL AP) to conduct a first-of-its-kind study to quantify the alignment between the state's CTE programs and the labor market. This new approach complements traditional information available from labor market supply and demand studies. Below we share insights on how policymakers and stakeholders can use alignment data to ensure they are providing valuable CTE opportunities to students while strengthening local economies and considerations for conducting similar studies to quantify alignment.

Using alignment data to guide decisionmaking

Understanding how CTE programs align to meaningful employment opportunities equips policymakers and stakeholders to make important decisions about resource allocation, such as which CTE programs to offer and where to offer them. Local leaders and educators can use alignment data to provide students and families with information on whether CTE programs of interest are likely to result in obtaining a meaningful job. Below we provide some examples of ways policymakers and stakeholders can use this type of data.

  • Change CTE program offerings to improve alignment between student learning and skills built in CTE programs, and the labor market.
  • Encourage enrollment in CTE programs that align with jobs that will have employment openings.
  • Provide students with information about the employment prospects for CTE programs.
  • Connect secondary and postsecondary CTE opportunities to ensure students can continue their education beyond high school when needed.

Considerations for examining alignment

Collecting and analyzing a variety of workforce and education data can help states answer critical questions that can improve their decisionmaking and outcomes for students in CTE programs. The table below details the types of data needed to quantify the alignment between CTE programs and meaningful employment opportunities. If possible, analyses should rely on data from the local level (for example, regions within a state) because of the limited mobility of many young adults and differences in regional labor markets. Some data are available from national sources; however, data for the locality of interest will lead to more accurate results.

Type of data Purpose of data Potential data source
CTE program availability in high schools and postsecondary institutions Identify alignment between CTE program availability and the labor market State department of education
The number of students completing each CTE program Determine if there are any CTE programs with too many or too few students pursuing them to meet the demand State department of education
Identification of the jobs that CTE programs prepare students for Identify CTE program alignment with employment opportunities State department of education
Job requirements (skills, experience, and education) for jobs in the relevant labor market Identify jobs that have requirements that CTE programs can satisfy U.S. Department of Labor's O*NET website
The number of employment openings and salaries for jobs in the relevant labor market Identify meaningful employment opportunities State workforce data (for example, Workforce West Virginia)
Education prerequisites of postsecondary programs Identify alignment between high school CTE programs and postsecondary programs State department of education or postsecondary institutions

Resources for ongoing learning

This blog draws on the analysis and implications from the REL AP research study Assessing the alignment between West Virginia's high school career and technical education programs and the labor market. Read the full study for more information about how to evaluate the alignment between high school CTE programs and the labor market. Also refer to the resources below to learn more about CTE programs in West Virginia and beyond.