Last month, the Indiana Senate passed a bill to bridge the gap between school curriculum and workforce demands. Their data-based solution hopes to fill one million jobs over the next 10 years--with an emphasis on high-paying STEM jobs that don't require a 2-year or 4-year degree.
According to our Vital Signs data, STEM jobs in Indiana will grow 17 percent from 2014-2024, compared with 11 percent for non-STEM jobs. Although many Indiana students seem to aspire to 4-year degrees, only 28 percent of the state's degrees and certificates are awarded in STEM fields. Our data as well as data from the Department of Workforce Development (DWD) certainly make the case for a state-wide focus on STEM skills. And it seems like state leaders have answered the call.
Indiana takes data-based innovation to new heights with the creation of the Indiana Career Explorer. This digital program gives students an aptitude test that identifies strengths and uses that as a basis for exploring an entire career pipeline from coursework to credentials. For example, an assessment might determine that a student would excel in manufacturing.
“Then the student would next begin to assess what particular area of manufacturing they might like or be best suited for," said Senator Doug Eckerty to The Star Press. "So let's just say that would be a [computer numerically controlled] machine operator. Then the student would be presented with all of the education requirements to become a CNC operator. Do they need certificates? If so, how many? Do they need an industry-certified credential? Do they need an associate degree or a four-year degree?”
“They would also be presented with information as to where they could obtain the certificates, credentials, or degrees and what exactly each would cost,” Eckerty continued. “Then they would be able to search the DWD database to see if in fact there were any employers in their county who needed trained people in the student's area of interest, along with current and projected employer demand and the wages associated with this job. Next the student will complete a 'pathway to completion,' which will lay out classes, certificates and credentials on a timeline for completion.”
Many corporate and education institution have long struggled to agree on curriculum and coursework that correlates to future job skills. So Indiana is among the first states to try providing the DWD data directly to students to promote the changes they want to see.
This Indiana Career Explore bill includes a year-long pilot for eighth-graders in 15 school districts. After the pilot, Indiana Career Explorer will be fully integrated into the state-wide eighth grade program. This bill holds promise for many other states hoping to turn the tide of the career and technical education skills gaps at home. Keep your eyes on Indiana!
A recent headline at hartfordbusiness.com caught our attention: “Vo-tech instructor shortage is manufacturing’s biggest test.” The story warned of a rising shortage of career and technical instructors to help prepare a new generation of talent to replace retiring workers at Connecticut manufacturing plants.
Hmm, we wondered, is this a regional blip or a national trend? It didn’t take much digging to unearth similar stories all over the country:
In California, “Supply lags booming demand for career technical teachers.” In Minnesota, “Where are all the career and technical educators?” and “Career and technical education shortage must be addressed with a sense of urgency.” In Michigan, “Shortage of qualified instructors a challenge for school CTE programs.” In North Dakota, “Career, tech ed struggle with teacher shortages.”
National indicators bear out the headlines. In a 2016 U.S. Department of Education listing, many states projected teacher shortages in career and technical (CTE) education, among other subject areas.
What’s Going On?
Several factors appear to be at play. Schools have been rolling out new, robust CTE programs—and student interest in CTE is growing. CTE is replacing traditional vocational–technical education, which has fallen out of favor. That’s because vo-tech typically did not prepare students for education after high school, which is now essential for most middle and high-skilled jobs. Today, the best CTE programs provide rigorous academics, applied learning experiences and, in some cases, recognized credentials. CTE also offers pathways to both postsecondary education and attractive careers in high-demand, fast-growing fields such as advanced manufacturing, biotechnology, engineering, environmental services, health informatics, information technology and finance.
The bench of qualified teachers is inadequate to meet this demand. As vo-tech programs declined, many postsecondary institutions eliminated teacher education programs focused on this specialty. To boost the supply of teachers, some states are offering alternative certification or relaxing CTE teacher licensing requirements, which may require specialized skills and even years of industry experience. Teacher salaries, meanwhile, don’t come close to compensating for this level of expertise, but lowering standards risks hurting students.
Looking to the Business Community for Solutions
Licensing changes alone will not be enough to staff up CTE programs. Instead, states are looking to new approaches and new collaboration with industry, which benefits from workforce preparation by CTE programs.
There seems to be overwhelming interest nationwide in closer collaboration with the business community. In a 2016 report by Advance CTE and the Council of Chief State School Officers, 98 percent of 47 state CTE directors surveyed said that increasing access to “industry experts”—people with both knowledge and experience in a specific industry and the knowledge, skills and abilities to support students and collaborate with teachers—is a key priority area today in high schools. Moreover, 100 percent said that it will be an increasing priority in the future. This report champions the role of industry in supporting CTE, and suggests that industry experts could serve as part-time or adjunct high school instructors, career advisors or counselors, mentors and career coaches, and advisors for school CTE organizations.
In California, a recent policy brief offers a similar set of solutions to the “severe” shortage of CTE teachers, where 67 percent of high schools with career pathways programs reported that recruiting and retaining instructors with appropriate credentials is challenging or very challenging. “Industry partners are crucial to addressing this shortage,” according to this policy brief. Among other recommended solutions: more funding for CTE teacher preparation, pathways to teaching for employees within industry sectors, pre-service and in-service CTE teacher preparation in industry, and industry mentorship to support new CTE teachers.
States and corporate organizations up for the challenge will need to tap into their repertoires of evidence--like state Vital Signs reports or local workforce data--to illuminate weak areas and build better strategies for connecting CTE teachers and industry partners with eager students.
Companies are often wary of collaborating with school districts, because they worry that education bureaucracies will hamstring their efforts. Fortunately, big changes have been afoot in the nation's largest state for some time now. California is urging its school districts to forge stronger partnerships with school districts, and the state is even putting its money where its mouth is.
Businesses have more opportnities to join school district leaders at the planning table, and the state continues to put serious money behind efforts to promote school-based learning. for more information, check out our new guide to help California companies take advantage of these incentives.
Last Friday, I was honored to give a plenary talk to an inspiring group of career and technical education (CTE) advocates at the Winter Meeting of the Pennslyvania Association of Career & Technical Administrators. Before traveling to the Keystone State, I looked into some data on the condition of STEM CTE there. Two conclusions leapt out at me:
In both regards, Pennsylvania resembles the nation as a whole. At a time when STEM employers are looking for all the talent they can get, this gender segregation is bad for their bottom line, the nation, and the thousands of young people who need access to more and better jobs. The good news is that advocates and educators in Pennsylvania are on the case.
You can download my presentation to PACTA here, or check out some of the major takeaways below:
Career and technical education is no longer the forgotten stepchild of education reform. The plight of jobless Americans took center stage in the turbulent Presidential election and raised the stakes for creating pathways to the middle class that don’t pass through the ivy-fringed gates of four-year colleges. In fact, jaded Congress watchers believe that CTE may be one of the few issues that will win bipartisan support in 2017.
That’s good news, but converts to the CTE cause will soon discover what CTE experts have known for a long time: namely, that the gender gaps in CTE’s STEM subjects are every bit as large as gender gaps in advanced math and science classes. In fact, those gaps are growing. To create broad opportunities for all their students, states must meet this problem head on.
To gauge the depth of the challenge, we reviewed federal data on high school students who concentrate in one of four critical STEM CTE fields: Health science, information technology, manufacturing, and science & technology.
The lion’s share of female high schoolers concentrating in STEM CTE study health science, while male students are more evenly distributed:
Not surprisingly, high school girls dominate health science, but they are scarce in the other three career clusters. The imbalance has gotten worse since 2007/08:
In science and engineering, girls held steady at a measly 25 percent. 
The news isn’t all bad for girls. They dominate in health sciences at a time when the healthcare sector is growing quickly and middle-skill jobs in health command a strong wage, at least for those who go on to earn a two-year technical degree.
Still, the gender imbalances should concern everyone. it’s more than a bit troubling that segregation by gender is getting worse. As fields like healthcare and computing continue to grow, we cannot draw most of our talent from only half of the population. In addition, a growing body of research tells us that organizations benefit from gender diversity in the workplace.
What’s to be done? As with most problems that really matter, the solutions are multifaceted, ranging from formally recruiting girls as early as middle schools to redesigning CTE curricula to avoid gender stereotypes and providing CTE teachers professional development on how to create a welcoming environment for all genders.
(Check out this handy primer on professional development for a fuller list.)
Employers should continue making the case for gender balance while identifying employees who can serve as mentors: female employees in advanced manufacturing, for example, or male nurses. Governors can use their bully pulpit to advance campaigns that encourage gender diversity in middle-skill STEM jobs. Career and technical educators can work with their schools and districts to design targeted student recruitment strategies that break through the gender stereotypes.
Each state or community might find a different set of solutions, but none can afford to ignore the problem. State leaders must dedicate themselves to improving matters. The Carl D. Perkins Career and Technical Education Act of 2006, which is likely to be reauthorized this year, requires states to report on their progress in improving gender equity in CTE. It is not yet clear, however, whether states will suffer any federal consequences if they fail to reach their targets. There is little appetite for federal sanctions these days.
The solution is up to all of us. After all, everyone has a major stake in fostering a creative and robust middle skills workforce. We won’t get there if we allow boys and girls to go their separate ways.
 Health Science, Information Technology, Manufacturing, and “STEM” are career clusters in the National Career Clusters Framework. For the purposes of this analysis, we have renamed the STEM career cluster as “Science & engineering” to avoid confusion with our own definition of STEM, which includes the other three career clusters. The Science & engineering cluster includes “planning, managing and providing scientific research and professional and technical services (e.g., physical science, social science, engineering) including laboratory and testing services, and research and development services.”
 Data reveal that male and female enrollments more than doubled—growing by roughly 120 percent each. That said, girls did not improve their relative position.