A new report from Civic Enterprises and the Georgetown University Center on Education and the Workforce examines how career and technical education (CTE) at both the high school and postsecondary levels can prepare individuals for the approximately 29 million “middle jobs” in the United States today. These jobs pay between $35,000 and $95,000 a year and are open to individuals who have education and training beyond high school but do not hold a bachelor’s degree. According to the report, Career and Technical Education: Five Ways That Pay Along the Way to the B.A., middle jobs account for one in every five jobs in the American labor market and nearly half of all jobs that pay at least a middle-class wage.
As shown in the graph to the right, nearly half of middle jobs are in office occupations, such as marketing and sales managers, computer and information system managers, and postal service workers. Another third of middle-class jobs are in traditional blue-collar occupations, such as electrical power-line installers; aircraft pilots, locomotive engineers, and miscellaneous plant and system operators.
“As jobs that require only high school or less have disappeared, postsecondary education and training on the job and in schools have become the gateways to the middle class,” the report notes. “Most postsecondary education and training discussions focus on the baccalaureate pathway, but there has been an increasing interest in so-called ‘middle jobs’ … The education and training programs that prepare Americans for these jobs are commonly referred to as career and technical education.”
According to the report, the American career and technical education system is unique, flexible, and responds to changes in labor-market conditions. Unlike in other countries, it can provide individuals with opportunities to further their education and earn college degrees, promote career mobility as an avenue for lifelong learning, and provide retraining for workers who have seen their jobs shipped overseas or outmoded by technological advancements.
The report groups CTE into high school and postsecondary levels. It notes that CTE in high schools can provide students with career exploration and programs of study that align with postsecondary programs and employer-based training. It can also encourage students to persist until high school graduation and offer stronger transitions to postsecondary education. As the job market shifts toward requiring postsecondary education and training after high school, the terminal high school vocational degree has receded in favor of postsecondary alternatives.
More than high school CTE, postsecondary CTE can lead to a relatively good-paying jobs that also offer lifelong learning opportunities and career advancement.
Specifically, the report lists five major pathways that CTE provides toward the 29 million middle-class jobs: (1) employer-based training; (2) industry-based certifications; (3) apprenticeships; (4) postsecondary certificates; and (5) associate’s degrees. The report also details the specific occupations for which CTE prepares American workers.
The report makes policy recommendations for how the federal government can improve the nation’s CTE infrastructure:
- Invest CTE dollars in programs of study that align secondary and postsecondary curriculums, reduce duplication and remediation, allow for dual-enrollment, and create opportunities for students to learn and earn.
- Create a “Learning & Earning Exchange” that links high school and postsecondary transcript information about courses taken and grades with employer wage records. The report says such an information system would (1) help students understand the demand for specific kinds of education and training; (2) help educators reform their programs to better serve their students; and (3) help employers find the workers they need to fill their increasingly complex occupational needs.
The complete report is available at