Implementing high-quality CTE practices in the classroom

High school career and technical education (CTE) programs continue to grow in popularity and number. Even though many business leaders report that high school graduates lack basic, industry-ready skills needed to transition directly into the workforce, education and industry stakeholders agree that there are benefits to high-quality CTE programs.

CTE programs act as a gateway between education and successful, fulfilling careers. And, today, in the wake of the pandemic, there is a greater need than ever for skilled employees. CTE educators are tasked with preparing students for success in a global economy that seems to change course daily. To do so, they must know what educational practices support high-quality CTE programs. Further, they must apply these practices to ensure that CTE students develop necessary skills.

As a policy-driven educator, myself, I set out to explore the perspectives of CTE administrators and industry leaders about which educational practices best prepare CTE students for the workplace. My findings revealed four themes:

  • Support systems for CTE
  • Preparation for the world of work
  • Connections to the world of work
  • Advocacy and alliances between CTE programs and industry

The educational practices revealed in my study may offer support for CTE educators who seek to provide students with authentic, engaging work-based learning experiences.

Create a support system.

First, the study participants clarified that creating a support system for students during their education was essential. Many felt it successfully prepared students for the workplace. “I think working alongside an industry partner — literally on the floor with them and not just job shadowing — is invaluable,” quipped one CTE administrator.

Others shared that those supported by industry during high school are more likely to gain employment after graduation. “The goal is to see high school students who want to enter a CTE program can, and that we can give them opportunities to get a job.” Study participants agreed that a strong support system comprised of CTE educators and industry leaders fosters workplace readiness.

Prepare students for the world of work.

Second, CTE programs must be designed and facilitated through real-life experiences. Students benefit from opportunities to see how the real work is done. High-quality CTE curriculum factors in the needs of both the CTE classroom and industry. Therefore, CTE administrators should collaborate with industry leaders and knowledgeable instructors to apply and model expected competencies. By delivering a content-specific curriculum and providing opportunities for CTE students to practice their skills, CTE students will become workforce ready.

Connect students to the world of work.

Work-based learning principles — such as entry and advancement in a career track, meaningful jobs tasks, compensation, and more — help students to understand what the world of work looks like before entering the workforce. In my study, participants shared that they need graduates proficient in technical and employability skills.

For example, when CTE programs make connections to industry needs, students “see a seamless transition from learning to doing.” Fostering this connection supports both students and employers. “Those relationships help CTE stay current with what the industry has and also find out some of their needs,” commented one educator.

Advocate for the value of high-quality CTE.

Finally, educators must do the work to develop industry partnerships and advocate for the value of CTE. An alliance between CTE students and industry partners is mutually beneficial. For example, a student can apply skills they learned in the CTE classroom with guidance from an expert. And the expert potentially secures a well-trained, workplace-ready employee. In my study, I found that the educational practice of advocacy and alliances within CTE programs helps students cultivate important workforce skills.

Meaningful connections between CTE programs and industry partners — built on trust and respect — are the gateway to strong alliances. “A strong connection to industry should help drive the educational aspects of your program.” Participants’ feedback suggests that high-quality CTE with stakeholder support can result in successful career placement for students.


Graduation from a secondary CTE program can provide a positive pathway for students’ lives. My goal was met. I synthesized the participants’ information to understand which educational practices prepare students for the workforce. I confirmed the following: the necessity of a support system for students comprised of knowledgeable instructions and industry experts, a curriculum based on current industry standards, an opportunity for workplace experience, and advocacy and alliances among CTE stakeholders. These educational practices connect students to the world of work.

Melissa S. Webb, Ph.D. is a graduate of Walden University and specializes in Leadership, Management and Policy. She believes that every student deserves an education beyond the doors of a classroom. And that as a community, we must encourage and engage students in a path of success that suits their desires.

To learn more about high-quality CTE, read Techniques.