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“More than half of high school students say no one in their school has been helpful in advising on career options or options to further their education,”

In light of the increasingly high-tech and global economy, today’s students need stronger career guidance than ever before, and comprehensive career and technical education (CTE) programs can provide much of this support. So says “Career and Technical Education’s Role in Career Guidance,” a new brief by the Association for Career and Technical Education (ACTE).

The brief cites a study by the Bureau of Labor Statistics that estimated that 15.6 million new jobs would be added to the workforce between 2006 and 2016—many of them requiring strong math, technology, and communication skills. But, as ACTE notes, too few members of the workforce are adequately prepared to perform the duties required for the jobs of today and the future.

The brief adds that today’s students are largely unprepared to “navigate the changing workplace,” a situation that can be related to limited career knowledge and awareness. “More than half of high school students say no one in their school has been helpful in advising on career options or options to further their education,” it reads. “Without structured guidance activities, young people tend to drift through their high school education without gaining knowledge of all the career opportunities available to them or the skills that are required.”

However, the average student to counselor ratio currently stands at 479 to 1, compared to 250 to 1 as recommended by the American School Counselor Association. The brief argues that CTE programs, with their emphases on career clusters and career pathways, can complement counselors’ guidance efforts.

Career clusters are defined in the brief as “broad groupings of occupations or careers used as an organizing tool for curriculum design and instruction.” It notes that many states are utilizing them through the States’ Career Clusters Initiative, which helps states connect education with the working world and the economy. A career pathway, on the other hand, is defined as a sequence of rigorous academic and career courses that starts in the ninth grade and leads to a postsecondary degree (e.g., an associate’s) or an industry recognized certificate or licensure.

“Regardless of the specific terminology used,” says the brief, “the systematic course planning and design involved in these efforts provide tremendous tools for career guidance….These tools will open new opportunities for career exploration while providing students with very clear pathways to future education and success.”

The brief considers CTE programs’ “ability to engage students in the educational and career decision-making process” through personalized learning as perhaps its most important contribution to career guidance. Key elements of personalization include an individualized graduation plan, which maps out the courses an individual student should take, and work-based learning experiences such as internships and community service projects.

To download the entire brief, which includes examples of successful CTE initiatives in South Carolina, Texas, and Utah, visit

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