State embraces CTE expansion

State embraces CTE expansion

(Del.) Enrollment in Delaware’s career education pathways program has jumped from 27 students a few years ago to what is expected to be 9,000 students by the end of the 2017-18 school year, according to state education officials.

Since 2014, the Delaware Pathways program has expanded from offering advanced manufacturing, and now allows students to explore career options in fields including healthcare, engineering, finance, hospitality management, computer science and biomedical science.

Each pathway blends classroom instruction and hands-on training, and provides students an opportunity to intern with local employers while earning industry credentials or college credits.

Through the early childhood education pathway, for instance, students can graduate high school already certified as a preschool teachers or instructional aide, allowing them to enter the classroom immediately after high school, or enroll ahead in college and graduate faster.

With much of the state’s aging workforce reaching retirement, employers have increased recruitment efforts–especially those aiming to fill middle- and high-skill positions. According to state employment data, middle- and high-skill employment accounts for 62 percent of all Delaware jobs, and represents 69 percent of all projected growth openings through 2024.

Education officials say that means the state must do more to ensure that young people are qualified for the jobs where demand is growing, and districts must develop partnerships with local industry leaders.

“Delaware will hire or replace 30 percent of its workforce in the next eight years," Susan Bunting, state secretary of education, told The News Journal. "These shifts require employers and schools to take a more active role in shaping Delaware’s talent pipeline."

A growing number of states have passed legislation in recent years aimed at promoting career technical education and training, and districts have begun developing career pathways directly targeting local community needs. CTE courses can encompass engineering, health sciences, cyber security and agricultural sciences, among numerous other career pathways, and such coursework emphasizes applied learning that has been found to contribute to academic knowledge, problem-solving skills and technical skills relating to specific in-demand occupations.

Delaware’s pathway program currently involves various workforce, primary and higher education agencies. Higher education and K-12 officials partner to analyze labor market data and identify which career fields would make the most sense for the Pathways initiative, while Delaware Technical Community College connects local educators and employers, and the Delaware Workforce Development Board develops support for youth employment opportunities.

According to state data, the program–which begins in seventh grade–included almost 5,000 students across its 14 different career tracks during the last school year. It is predicted that approximately 9,000 children will participate this year. Final enrollment numbers are expected to be released until later this month.