Vice-President Speaks at First Summit on Career and Technical Education

IB ImageVice President Biden said school-employer partnerships provide a path to a middle- class life. "These partnerships provide a seamless transition so folks can go from a classroom to a job, and from job to job within the industry they're in," he said, adding, "We have to maintain and enhance our workforce so we have the most sophisticated, best-trained workforce in the world."
 
Summit speakers emphasized that today's CTE programs are very different from yesterday's vocational education programs. CTE has been reimagined to bring together all the players needed to make it succeed—students, teachers, businesses and other employers, and higher education institutions.
 
"CTE has the promise and potential to help equip a new generation of workers with the skills and knowledge needed for the jobs of today and tomorrow, and to forge a new path to college and life," said AFT President Randi Weingarten. "It's a way for our high schools, community colleges and other higher education institutions, and businesses to coordinate and align so they can create and sustain good, middle-class jobs."
 
AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka said short-term challenges are flat wages and lack of jobs, while the long-term goal must be to regain America's competitive edge.
 
"Workforce development won't be a cure-all, but it is a necessary ingredient. What we need is a full, comprehensive system for lifelong learning. I'm talking about everything from high school programs to community colleges to apprenticeship programs to on-the-job learning. We all benefit when workers develop transferrable skills, so we can move among employers if we want and grow as professionals throughout our working lives," Trumka said.
 
AFL-CIO Secretary-Treasurer Liz Shuler said CTE and workforce development are a fundamental part of America's infrastructure. "It's as basic to our economy and our communities as building roads and bridges. In fact, workforce development is a bridge -- a bridge to our future, to the workers, jobs and technology of tomorrow, to our success as individuals and industries, and to our competitiveness as a nation."
 
Alexis Smith is a graduate of the Toledo Technology Academy and now studying biomedical engineering at the University of Toledo.
 
"My experience at Toledo Tech opened up the doors of opportunity for me to delve into my passion," Smith said. Of other former and current CTE students speaking at the summit, she said, "we are Exhibit 'A' for the power of CTE to engage us in our studies, to help us secure a bright future and to have fun at the same time."
 
Among the corporate leaders at the summit validating the importance of CTE programs was Snap-on Inc. Chairman and CEO Nicholas Pinchuk.
 
"We are in a global competition for jobs," Pinchuk said. "The single best weapon is CTE. We need to outskill the competition."
 
Weingarten noted that for CTE to fulfill its potential, more businesses need to partner with educators and schools to offer a path forward for students with internships, apprenticeships and employment opportunities. This was reinforced in a nationwide survey of 570 CTE teachers that the AFT released yesterday. The teachers uniformly believe in CTE as a way to create opportunity for kids, but said they need the equipment and resources to make the work real and need more partners in business and the community to step up.
 
Click here for the results of AFT's survey of CTE teachers.
 
Survey respondents showed their enthusiasm for the tangible benefits to students and communities from high-quality career and technical education. But they also identified challenges that need to be overcome for CTE to be as comprehensive and successful as it can and should be. For example, a State Vocational Federation of Teachers union member working in the Connecticut Technical High School System (CTHSS) reported that "the state recommends 16 student in a hands-on technology education class; I start with 35."
 
Weingarten noted the summit took place just a few days after the polarizing midterm elections. "CTE is a strategy that both Republicans and Democrats believe in and can agree on, so I have great hope that we can move this agenda in Washington, D.C."
 
Click here to access the Fall 2014 issue of AFT's American Educator for several articles and opinion pieces on CTE.