Expert Viewpoint

3 Ways CTE and Industry-Recognized Certifications Have Given This District's Students a Leg Up

In the last year, research is finding that students are increasingly choosing a nontraditional or nonlinear path — or no path at all — to continuing their education after high school graduation. In fact, according to America’s Promise Alliance, in 2021:

  • 24% of students planned to attend a two-year institution instead of a four-year.
  • 16% of students said they planned to attend college later.
  • 7% of students reported that they were no longer planning to attend college.

Add to these statistics the fact that 36% of jobs in 2020 didn’t require a college degree.

This should prompt us to ask: "Is ‘college for all’ always the best way to prepare young people? Or is there another way?”

The answer lies within career technical education programs and the opportunity to earn industry-recognized CTE certifications. These certifications offer proof of valuable skill sets needed by today's workforce and are an important part of the solution for economic competitiveness.

CTE programs help students prepare for future careers with specific skill requirements, which employers can find difficult to fill. In today’s economy, job security is more important than ever. Industry-recognized certifications give students proof that they have the skills and knowledge needed for the job.

Certifications also help students stand out from the competition, as well as providing other benefits. Following are three reasons why these CTE programs and certifications matter for students.

CTE Programs Give Students Firsthand Experience

CTE programs and industry-recognized certifications give students firsthand experience in their chosen field and can give them a leg up in college by letting them skip and gain credit for entry-level classes.

CTE programs provide students with opportunities for hands-on exploration of career pathways that interest them. They can feel empowered to take the future into their own hands when they can explore career pathways while obtaining industry-recognized certifications that provide validation of their skills. They also provide them with the experience and skills needed to head directly into a job or career.

At Provo High School, each year hundreds of students complete CTE programs and go on to earn Precision Exams certifications through YouScience.

Here’s one example: A 2022 Provo High School graduate, Jessica, took a series of CTE courses during her time at Provo High. Putting some of her news skills gained to the test, she built a new podium for our auditorium as her senior project. Jessica also used her experience with CTE to compete in the State’s Sterling Scholar Program, where she earned a spot as a Wasatch Region finalist in the category of Skilled and Technical Education.

These skills courses have played a big role in shaping who she is, Jessica says: “Without a doubt, the CTE courses I took in high school were a huge factor in both choosing my college and degree. The CTE courses I took through my high school really opened my eyes to some amazing career paths that I didn't know could be within my reach. I am currently planning on becoming a chemical engineer, where I hope to one day synthesize human organs to reduce the organ waiting list. My CTE biotechnology class opened my eyes to this possibility, and it changed my life. After being made aware of this career path and developing basic skills to get me there through this class, I have felt a drive and sense of purpose that I believe no other class can give you. CTE classes will always hold a special place in my heart since they have completely prepared me for a successful, enjoyable future.”

CTE Programs Enable Students to Verify Knowledge and Skills

Today’s job market is very competitive, despite low unemployment and a large number of individuals leaving their jobs. Employers often look for candidates with the right skills and knowledge, so that they can be immediately productive on the job without extensive training. Having industry-recognized certifications shows potential employers that a student has the skills that are needed for the job.

Our 2022 graduate Jessica, when asked about her experiences with CTE, said: “I actually received five CTE certificates at the end of my courses, which has been phenomenally helpful in the years since then. I have presented these certifications in both college and job applications, which has certainly helped me stand out as a candidate for these positions. The fact that your skills can be endorsed by the state is a big deal to anyone reading your resume. I highly recommend seeking out these industry-recognized certification opportunities to make you both more employable and prepared for a career that uses those same skills.”

Students who successfully complete a certification exam receive a certificate that includes a list of the relevant and valuable skills they’ve learned. These skills can then be included on a resume or college or career application to showcase experience and expertise.

CTE Programs Demonstrate Commitment and Help Students Understand Their ‘Why’

Any advantage that a student can give themself is crucial in today’s job environment, and industry-recognized certifications are one of the best ways to demonstrate commitment and valuable experience. Certifications take time, effort, and commitment — which is why potential employers often see them as a valuable indication of abilities and interest. By taking the time to earn a certification, students send a strong signal to potential employers that they are serious about their career and that they have the skills and knowledge to back it up.

We’ve seen this firsthand through another recent graduate. This particular student completed a series of computer courses between his 9th and 12th grade years, including a CTE internship, in which he worked with the school district’s IT department. Through this internship, he was able to gain full-time employment after high school with this same district department. This student gained the skills needed while in high school to be able to jump into his career pathway and the district gained a much-needed skilled employee.

Certifications also help students understand why they are learning something in the classroom. According to Gallup research, by high school, more than 50% of students are "not engaged" or "actively disengaged” in school. This matters since engaged students are 2.5 times more likely to get excellent grades and do well in school, and they are 4.5 times more likely to be hopeful about the future than their actively disengaged peers.

While there is not a one-size-fits-all approach to college and career success for students, gaining industry-recognized certifications is one way for students to show potential employers that they are ready for the job.

About the Author

Jeri L. Marshall is the College and Career Center Coordinator at Provo High School in Utah.