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Case Study

Industry Certifications Offer Career Development Opportunities to Tomorrow's Workforce 

The goal of Career & Technical Education (CTE) is to provide students of all educational and life stages with vital academic and employability skills needed to achieve educational and career success throughout their lives. Based on current employment trends, CTE opportunities for high school students has never been more critical.

Today’s high schoolers are members of Generation Z. As with other generation groups, experts disagree on the concrete time frame members of Generation Z were born; however, the Pew Research Center defines Generation Z as individuals born between 1997 and 2012. According to BridgeWorks, Generation Z accounts for 61 million members of the total U.S. population, making them the largest generation group in the nation. As the largest generation segment and future of the workforce, Generation Z is a critical portion of the U.S population. As reported by the Chicago Tribune, 10,000 Baby Boomers, the generation born between 1946 and 1964, reach retirement age every day. While it is challenging to predict when most Baby Boomers will retire since many are working past the age of 65, it will fall to members of Generation Z to fill the employment gaps as more and more Baby Boomers leave the workforce. According to the U.S. Census Bureau, Generation Z will make up 30% of the labor force by 2030.

Because members of Generation Z will account for a critical segment of the workforce, it is imperative they receive skills training and career development opportunities before entering the workforce. However, research shows members of Generation Z have less work experience than previous generations.  According to the Wharton School at the University of Pennsylvania, in 2018, only 19% of 15 to 17-year-olds reported working in the last calendar year, a significantly lower amount than previous generations. Since early work positions help individuals develop critical life skills, such as time management, budgeting and saving and proper workplace conduct, Generation Z is at a disadvantage when they finally enter the workforce. Along with the development of employability skills, holding a job in high school can help young people develop their knowledge and abilities, as well as hone passions and interests that can develop into future career opportunities. 

Despite the benefits employment can offer high school students, many students struggle to find work related to their interests and future career goals. These challenges are often the result of a lack of direct work experience and relevant credentials. One way to combat employment challenges is by earning an industry certification in high school. Industry certifications act as a signal to employers, letting them know the applicant possesses a verified set of knowledge and skills, therefore increasing employer confidence and helping certification earners find work relevant to their capabilities.

Surry County High School

Teresa Johnson is a business and information technology teacher and CTE department chair at Surry County High School in Surry, VA. As an educator, she is passionate about helping her students develop the skills they will need to find educational and career success after graduation. One of the ways she ensures students are gaining the proper training is by offering a variety of industry certification opportunities. In Johnson’s courses, students can earn the Express Employment Professional Business Office Technology Certification and the Southwest Airlines Professional Communications Certification, as well as the Microsoft Office Certifications. Express Employment Professionals developed the Business Office Technology Certification to prepare individuals to operate standard workplace technology. The Southwest Airlines Professional Communications Certification was created when Southwest Airlines saw a need for individuals in all career areas to possess a professional communications skillset. Johnson elected to incorporate these certifications in her program because of the benefit these certifications could offer to her students and the applicability of the certifications to the materials addressed in her classes.


Certification earners Brécha Byrd, Maya Drew and Dionna Charity pose with their teacher, Teresa Johnson.

Earning an industry certification has helped Johnson’s students find employment opportunities related to their career goals and academic knowledge. Brécha Byrd, a senior at Surry County, earned the Southwest Airlines Professional Communications Certification and, as a result, was prepared to fulfill the duties of her position as a summer office assistant.

“If I hadn’t taken Ms. Johnson’s classes and passed the certification, I wouldn’t have known how to do my job,” said Byrd. “I never thought I would have needed a certification so early, but I did, and I’m glad I had it when it counted.”

Dionna Charity, another senior at Surry County, says earning the Southwest Airlines Professional Communications Certification allowed her to adapt to the demands of her job more quickly and reduced the amount of time her employer spent training her. After graduating from Surry County, Charity plans to attend college to pursue a degree in computer science. Charity believes earning the Southwest Airlines Professional Communications Certification will help her achieve her career goals and find employment during and after college.

“Communication is key to any career; employers always want to hire someone who has good communication skills," said Charity.

Surry County students like Byrd and Charity are gaining valuable employment opportunities as a result of earning an industry certification. Not only are they securing positions relevant to their academic and career interests, but they are also more prepared and qualified to enter the workforce than their peers without industry certifications.

Nottoway High School

At Nottoway High School in Crewe, VA, the agricultural science program balances in-class instruction with hands-on learning opportunities. John Scialdo, agricultural science teacher, oversees the animal science pathways in the agricultural science program. Nottoway agricultural science students are exposed to a variety of experiences in Scialdo’s classes, including raising chickens, cats, rabbits, hamsters and dairy cows. Along with these hands-on experiences, Scialdo incorporates the Elanco Fundamentals of Animal Science Certification as a central component in the animal systems and small animal care classes.  An industry leader in companion and food animal health, Elanco developed the Fundamentals of Animal Science Certification to address the need for qualified workers in all segments of animal production and care.


John Scialdo with Nottoway certification earners.

Devon Baugus, a junior at Nottoway, has always been interested in animals. He earned the Elanco Fundamentals of Animal Science Certification in hopes of increasing his job prospects in the animal science field. Baugus’ work paid off. During a job interview for a position at a local farm, Baugus was able to secure the position when he told the owner he earned the Elanco Fundamentals of Animal Science Certification. Knowing Baugus’ knowledge and skills of animal science were verified by Elanco convinced the employer to hire Baugus, despite his lack of work experience on a farming operation. Now an employee on the farm, Baugus helps oversee the health and maintenance of the operation’s cattle herd. 

Another Nottoway student, Brandon Lawson, was recognized for earning the Elanco Fundamentals of Animal Science Certification by his employers at Tyson Foods. Lawson, a senior at Nottoway, works on a Tyson Foods poultry farm and works as a security guard at the Tyson Foods processing plant near Crewe. From his work at Tyson Foods, Lawson has developed a passion for food safety and plans to pursue a career as a food inspector after graduating from Nottoway. Lawson says earning the Elanco Fundamentals of Animal Science Certification helped him be a better employee at the poultry farm, and he is confident the certification will help him secure work positions in the future. Because of the success he found from the Elanco Fundamentals of Animal Science Certification, Lawson is encouraging his fellow students to earn an industry certification as well.

“Earning the certification will help get to where you want to go, whether that’s college or a career. The certification will help you get to the next level,” said Lawson.

Thanks to teachers like Johnson and Scialdo, who are providing career training and industry certification opportunities to their students, Generation Z will be ready to enter the workforce as qualified employees. By providing industry certification opportunities to their students, CTE teachers are helping their students secure work positions relevant to their career aspirations and interests, ensuring the next generation of the U.S. workforce will have the proper knowledge and skills to contribute to a variety of industries and fields. With the help of industry certifications and other relevant career development opportunities Generation Z will be prepared to step into in-demand, high-wage, high-skill positions as the leaders of tomorrow’s workforce.


About iCEV

Since 1984, iCEV has specialized in providing quality CTE curriculum and educational resources. iCEV is the most comprehensive online resource for CTE educators and students, offering curriculum for several major subject areas, including agricultural science, trade & industrial education, business & marketing, career exploration, family & consumer science, health science, law enforcement and STEM education. Additionally, iCEV acts as a testing platform for industry certifications. Leading companies and organizations utilize iCEV as the testing platform for their certifications. For more information, visit