CTE Pathways to Quality Jobs

By Sharon Lee Miller, Director, Division of Academic and Technical Education

The Department of Education is committed to expanding career pathways to quality jobs of the future, and the Strengthening Career and Technical Education for the 21st Century Act (Perkins V) provides a powerful opportunity to do so. The law reflects a broad bipartisan commitment to providing students with quality career and technical education (CTE) programs, ushering in a new data-driven process to better prepare students for high skill, high wage, in-demand jobs. And many states and localities are leading the way, utilizing this new process to increase access to quality jobs.

A critical change in the reauthorized law is a new Comprehensive Local Needs Assessment (CLNA): a data-driven process designed to help local recipients of Perkins funds (local recipients) determine which CTE programs, courses, and activities should be funded with federal Perkins dollars. The CLNA is a powerful tool that can be leveraged to (1) drive equity-focused decision making, (2) align future CTE spending decisions with business needs, and (3) ensure students are on pathways to not only in-demand jobs, but also high-quality jobs with family-sustaining wages.

As envisioned by the Perkins V statute, local recipients conduct a CLNA at least every two years and the results are included in local applications to their states for funding. In 2022, local recipients are updating their CLNAs. During this process, local recipients will be required to engage with a wide range of stakeholders as they make their formal assessment of local needs.

Among the elements required in a CLNA, it must include a description of how CTE programs are aligned to industry sectors or occupations identified by a state or local workforce development board or how CTE programs are designed to meet local education or economic needs not identified by workforce development boards. Based on this information, local recipients can make evidence-based decisions on how best to allocate Perkins funds. When participating in this process, we encourage local recipients and their partners to prioritize CTE programs that lead to quality jobs.

States play an important role in this process. Most states provide guidance articulating state expectations for the CLNA. Guidance may include how to facilitate stakeholder groups, how to review and evaluate the information, and specific templates that outline the format, data, and questions required.

Spotlight: Key CLNA Requirements

  • Student performance evaluation and disaggregated categories
  • Description of how CTE programs align to in-demand industries/occupations
  • Description of progress toward equal access to high-quality CTE courses
  • Description of activities to prepare special populations for high-skill, high-wage, in-demand jobs

The good news is that a review of state guidance shows that many states are already focused on job quality. For example, Washington’s template requires local recipients to address in their CLNA: “How do your programs of study lead to credentials of workplace value that provide all students opportunities for living wage employment, with an emphasis on the Perkins special populations and student subgroups?” Similarly, North Carolina’s CLNA template for postsecondary local recipients asks, “Will programs allow students to earn a living wage when they become employed?” Wisconsin’s CLNA guide also emphasizes the importance of job quality in its introduction to the labor market alignment section for secondary local recipients:

“As a state we want to invest time, funding, and resources into quality CTE pathways that are the most likely to lead to family-sustaining careers for our students. When looking at labor market information, such as employment projections and emerging occupations, evaluate which CTE program areas in our state and in your local region are projected to have the most career opportunities and the best wages for your students. These are the areas to invest in for pathway development.”

Finally, promoting equity in access to preparation for in-demand, high-wage jobs is a recurring theme in the Illinois Community College Board’s CLNA template. Among the required questions by Illinois is the following: “What are your partnering stakeholders and institutions doing to help students with disabilities gain skills for high-demand and high-wage jobs? What systems, structures, supports, and resources are needed to prepare for and advance opportunities for this population of students to secure employment in high demand and high-wage jobs?”

February is a month where the CTE community comes together to celebrate the power of CTE and the promising pathways it can provide for students. To that end, we encourage local recipients in the midst of updating their CLNAs to dig into these important questions about job quality. Doing so will help fulfill the vision of Perkins V as an important tool for economic mobility.