Career & Technical Education + Career Academies = the Talent Pipeline Foundation

How do we come together to solve the complicated problems of filling jobs with a well-trained, skilled workforce? Well, the solutions certainly cannot be found working in isolation. It must be a team approach with all stakeholders at the table. Our local, state, and national economies all depend on this collaborative effort. I would like to submit that a critical piece of this collaboration can be found in our high schools in Career & Technical Education courses and career academies.

Let me explain. Volusia County Schools offers students 60 different Career & Technical Education (CTE) Programs. These modern day CTE programs are not the vocational education courses many of us encountered when we were in high school. CTE has evolved into career training for all students, not just for those students who are not bound for college as in the past. CTE courses provide students with training in a host of career pathways that prepare them for direct entry jobs, certificate programs, and further postsecondary education. There are multiple entry, exit, and re-entry points for students that allow for career preparation that meets the needs and skills of students. With options such as, Health Science, Engineering, Robotics, Agriscience, Culinary Arts, Marketing, Information Technology, Manufacturing, and Education and Training, students have some serious choices to make. Students take three courses to complete a program that prepares them for entry level work and offers a foundation to build upon as they graduate.

In addition, CTE courses offer the benefit of adult level industry certifications, at no cost to the student. Twenty-seven different industry certifications are available for students through their CTE courses. During 2015-16, more than 2,000 students earned an industry certification. These are certifications that build a student’s resume and workplace skills before they even graduate. Some certifications equate to college credit through statewide articulation agreements.

Volusia also offers students the opportunity to be part of career academies that are small learning communities for students who share a passion for a particular career path. Academies are a hybrid of CTE courses and core academics that utilize real world problems and projects to deliver the curriculum. Volusia is not new to the career academy model. Academies go back to 1994 when Mainland High School opened the first career academy in the state, the Academy of Design and Manufacturing Technology. The 2017-18 school year will open with 41 career academies spread across Volusia’s 10 high schools.

The newest evolution of the career academy model includes an all-inclusive “wall -to-wall” approach where every high school student will be part of a career academy. Always the innovator, Mainland High School in Daytona Beach premiered the wall -to-wall model in 2016-17, and Atlantic High School in Port Orange will open their version of the model in 2017-18. Each school is focusing on implementing a project-based approach to teaching and learning that is centered around career preparation. This career preparation only happens with a strong partnership with local business and industry partners. Guest speakers, job shadows, field trips, and internships are all critical parts of the career academy model. Students have the chance to experience and test drive a career while they are still in high school. The overall goal is to insure that all students are prepared for a career, and they have some real world, work-based experiences, to help them make better decisions about next steps beyond high school.

Just how do CTE programs and career academies help the talent pipeline? Volusia County Schools partners with local business and industry, workforce development, local government, and postsecondary institutions to guide and inform the entire educational process. This input is what keeps CTE programs relevant and academies viable and connected to current careers. Workforce data is shared and utilized to inform program decisions. Collaboration with partners means that students are well prepared to graduate and qualify for employment — right here in Volusia County and beyond. All of the guest speakers and field trips to local businesses assist students in better understanding the employment opportunities that are right here at home.

Now, if you are reading this and thinking, “I sure wish that I had something like this when I was in high school,” you’re not alone. Most of the adults who hear about the opportunities that Volusia County Schools’ students have available say just that. If you’d like to know more about how to get involved to support this work, there are many places where interested community members can plug in to share their expertise. Cultivating a well-trained workforce is certainly not an easy task. However, when all stakeholders come together through CTE programs and career academies, we will continue to build a pipeline toward success, not only for the students of Volusia County Schools, but for our community as a whole.