Students from Ridgeview Charter School in Sandy Springs ride on a scissor lift provided by McKenney’s Inc. during 2019 CEFGA CareerExpo at Georgia International Convention Center on March 21. Getting students career ready has taken on momentum in recent years — so much so that schools are starting as early as elementary school exposing kids to fields such as construction trades. 
Photo: HYOSUB SHIN / HSHIN@AJC.COM
Photo: HYOSUB SHIN / HSHIN@AJC.COM

Do high school career-tech courses align with available jobs?

Report finds CTE classes don’t always match up with local opportunities 

In the last few years, states have backed away from what critics called the “college for all” push and begun to promote a refurbished high school voc-tech classes that purportedly align with high demand fields and skills.

But are the courses reflective of local employment opportunities? Is there a mismatch between what students choose to study and the needs of the local economy?

new report by the Thomas B. Fordham Institute examines that question on a national level and then delves deeper into 10 job markets around the country including Atlanta.

Co-authored by Pepperdine University associate professor Cameron Sublett and Fordham Institute senior research and policy associate David Griffith, “How Aligned is Career and Technical Education to Local Labor Markets?” looks at whether CTE students are more likely to take courses in high-demand and/or high-wage industries.

Of the four industries that comprise the majority of jobs in the Atlanta area, only two—business management/administration and hospitality/tourism —see significant levels of CTE course-taking, according to the report.

Despite many Atlanta area jobs in marketing and in transportation, distribution and logistics, fewer students take CTE courses in those areas. And even fewer enroll in the high school vo-tech courses that could lead to higher-wage jobs in architecture, construction and building trades. 

An AJC story this week reported an expected shortage of 61,168 construction workers in Georgia this year.

The Fordham report advises education and workforce development leaders to figure out how to encourage students to consider underserved fields with strong current and future job prospects. 

So, what CTE training offers the greatest earning potential in Atlanta? The report says: 

On average, STEM and IT are the highest-paid industries in Atlanta—and the rest of the United States— while Hospitality & Tourism and Human Services are the lowest paid. Although average STEM and IT wages are slightly lower in Atlanta than in the rest of the country, the average Atlanta STEM worker still makes about $85,000, or about 1.85 times as much as the average Atlanta worker.

Atlanta has an unusually large business sector compared to other regions of the country, but the report finds fewer area jobs in health science and human services. Other findings about CTE classes and jobs in Atlanta include:

-On average, Atlanta students take more courses in Business Management & Administration and IT than students in the rest of the United States—and about three times as many courses in Education & Training. However, they take fewer courses in Agriculture, Food & Natural Resources; Architecture & Construction; and Arts, A/V Technology & Communications.

-Compared to their peers in the rest of the U.S., high school students in Atlanta are more likely to concentrate in Business Management & Administration and Hospitality & Tourism. However, they are less likely to concentrate in Architecture & Construction and Agriculture, Food & Natural Resources.

The researchers recommend CTE programs reflect local job markets because many young people stay close to home after they graduate. “Americans have become less mobile, and most adults—especially those with less education or lower incomes—do not venture far from their hometowns…the median distance Americans live from their mother is 18 miles, and only 20 percent live more than a couple of hours’ drive from their parents,” according to the report.

Among the national findings:

-Many fields that generate a lot of jobs aren’t being covered by the CTE courses kids are taking in high school nationwide.

-On the positive side, students take more related CTE courses when there are more local jobs. 

-In what seems a surprising finding, students also take fewer CTE courses when local wages are higher. “In other words, students are actually less likely to take related CTE courses when local industry wages are higher—perhaps because CTE is not connecting them with the highest paying jobs within those industries.”

-Male students take far more courses in STEM, manufacturing, architecture and construction; and transportation, distribution and logistics. Female students take more courses in health science, human services, education and training, and arts, A/V technology and communications. 

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About the Author

Maureen Downey
Maureen Downey
Maureen Downey has written editorials and opinion pieces about local, state and federal education policy since the 1990s.
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