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Career and Technical Education (CTE) | Professional Development

5 Tips for Building a Sustainable CTE Program

October 12th, 2023 | 5 min. read

Brad Hummel

Brad Hummel

Coming from a family of educators, Brad knows both the joys and challenges of teaching well. Through his own teaching background, he’s experienced both firsthand. As a writer for iCEV, Brad’s goal is to help teachers empower their students by listening to educators’ concerns and creating content that answers their most pressing questions about career and technical education.

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Unlike any other educational program, career and technical education (CTE) engages students in hands-on, real-world learning to prepare them with concrete knowledge and skills to succeed in their chosen careers. As a valuable resource for the next generation, CTE programs must adapt to ever-changing workforce needs while being sustainable and effective programs for generations to come.

Although CTE learning looks very different from the traditional classroom model, getting a program off the ground or re-evaluating the effectiveness of an existing program doesn’t have to feel daunting. As with any project, the key is to go in with a plan.

In this blog, you'll discover five steps toward building a sustainable CTE program:

  1. Articulate Your Purpose
  2. Choose Relevant Courses
  3. Pursue Professional Development
  4. Build Partnerships Within the Community
  5. Evaluate Your Program

After reviewing these strategies, you'll be prepared to set your program and students on course for success.

1. Articulate Your Purpose

Whether starting a new school or re-evaluating the effectiveness of an existing program, articulating the purpose and value of your CTE program is critical to its longevity.

From the beginning, it’s essential to identify the purpose of implementing a CTE program and the goals you aim to achieve. Are you training learners for a specific area of employment needed in your community? Do you seek to meet industry standards in one field, or several?

Regardless of your goals, ensure that they are clearly defined from the beginning and used as the basis for all subsequent decisions. Keeping a consistent focus on your core goals is essential to developing a viable program.

Once you've defined your program's purpose and goals, administrators can then share the value of the program with students and the community. By defining the purpose and goals of a program, students gain insight into if the program interests them or how the program could benefit their future.

2. Choose Relevant Courses

One of the key benefits of CTE is that it focuses on building skills in the classroom that are directly and immediately applicable in the real world. Offering the right courses to teach these skills is a huge piece of any successful program.

Many CTE programs integrate different types of courses to create a comprehensive learning experience for students. For example, when programs implement experiential learning, project-based learning (PBL), and work-based learning (WBL) strategies, they're able to diversify their instruction in ways that are relevant to a wide range of work situations.

Moreover, when you use multiple educational methods within each course, you are able to foster a blended learning environment to develop your students.

When growing your CTE program, stay in tune with the most in-demand skills across industries and stay up to date on which skills and careers students are interested in. By implementing diverse courses with a broad scope of skills for students to learn, CTE programs are better able to prepare the next generation of the workforce.

3. Pursue Professional Development

Educators are the backbone of a CTE program as they provide students with experiences and opportunities to expand their knowledge and skillset. While educators spend a majority of their time developing their students, professional development for educators is just as important.

Implementing ongoing professional development (PD) and training opportunities keeps educators up to date on CTE program objectives, industry knowledge, and strategies to effectively teach today’s students. Professional development can also prevent burnout in teachers as they are provided experiences and strategies to innovate and sharpen their teaching methods.

Effective professional development can take any number of forms, from daylong technology training sessions to continuing education opportunities. Ultimately, supporting your teachers with relevant and varied professional development demonstrates your commitment to their success in the classroom.

4. Build Partnerships within the Community

The hands-on, clear connections to real-world careers are one of the biggest draws of CTE for students.

Connecting and building partnerships with local community and businesses offers immense value to today’s CTE programs by serving as a direct line to experts and the industry world. From these partnerships can come a multitude of opportunities for students, including field trips, internships, job shadowing, or part-time employment.

Building partnerships within the local community can also offer opportunities to bring experts into the classroom. Forging relationships with industries in your district’s community is the best way to create these opportunities.

Reach out to different companies and express your interest in creating partnerships between their professionals and your students. Start small by proposing brief site visits or in-class speakers and work up to more robust ongoing opportunities to maximize the resources in your local community.

5. Evaluate Your Program

Implementing a CTE program isn’t a one-time undertaking. It’s a long-term commitment to a model that will inevitably grow and evolve as the career world changes.

Achieving a successful and sustainable CTE program is all about iteration and scalability.

From the beginning, think about how you will gather feedback from involved parties—staff, students, parents, and industry partners. Collecting feedback and data on the effectiveness of a program offers immense value to today’s CTE programs by giving updates on the state of the program and how it’s impacting students.

Consider the available data from student test scores, online programs, and formative classroom assessments. Reflect on how you can put the data to use to determine if your CTE program is meeting its objectives. Based on this information, CTE programs are able to make more informed decisions, including changes in course offerings, assessments, projects and other program components on a yearly basis.

Finally, think about additional ways you can support your teachers and students through career and technical student organizations (CTSOs), expanded program offerings, and investments in equipment and technology. Evaluating and making continual adjustments and improvements to your CTE program will lead to long-term success and sustainability.

Build a Successful and Sustainable CTE Program

CTE offers today’s students unmatched opportunities for personal and career success. The challenge is monitoring and re-evaluating today’s CTE programs to keep up with changing industry needs and ensuring impactful learning experiences for students.

As administrators aim to build more sustainable CTE programs, the key to success lies within planning for and monitoring the CTE program and the students it serves.

In this article, we've considered five steps you can take toward creating and maintaining a successful CTE program. But there are many more ways to help your teachers and students thrive. 

For more ideas to help your CTE program grow, download the free guide on Building a Successful Online CTE Program. You'll discover how you can use digital curriculum to support your teachers and build your program:Download the Guide