Career and Technical Education programs see huge enrollment boost

Posted at 8:27 AM, May 24, 2021
and last updated 2021-05-26 10:17:06-04

The pandemic has brought unique challenges for young people entering the workforce, but local education programs like Career and Technical Education (CTE) are working to help.

CTE works to give students experience in their chosen career path while they're still in high school--and in the past four years, the program has seen major growth. More than 16,000 Idaho students joined CTE programs in the past four years.

"In 2016 we had 82,692 students enrolled, and in last year's data, we had 99,079 students enrolled," explained Justin Touchstone, with the Idaho Division of Career and Technical Education.

Touchstone says part of that growth likely came from the need for skilled workers in Idaho industry. As Idaho News 6 has reported, the scarcity of skilled workers in the state is growing more intense, despite the amount of unemployment created by the pandemic--however, the industries that need those skilled workers have expanded and CTE programs have evolved to meet the demand.

"The industry demand--they want students, kids to be able to come into their industry and be productive," Touchstone said. "A lot of people think of CTE and they think a welder or HVAC and plumbing or automotive--but we're getting into pre-engineering, we're getting into information systems and cybersecurity."

According to data from the Idaho Department of Labor, openings for cybersecurity jobs in Idaho have increased by 160 percent since 2015.

* Job postings have been filtered to reflect computer/math occupations with job postings that request cybersecurity skills as determined from the Burning Glass skills taxonomy.

Over in Eastern Idaho, a huge cyber camp each year helps generate interest in CTE, especially in computer skills.

"Exposing them to some possibilities in programming, computer networking, coding, security, all those fun things," explained Jennifer Lopez, Cybertechnology and STEM manager for the College of Eastern Idaho.

Lopez says each of the students she works with reminds her of her own child--students that benefit from other options besides college.

"I saw a need for students like him, and additional populations that needed someone to speak for them. It's been such a pleasure to be a part of this," Lopez said.

With the increase in interest in CTE programs, Touchstone says finding teachers to run the programs has been a challenge. As Idaho News 6 has reported, teacher shortages have been a growing concern statewide.

"Especially out in our smaller rural districts, this is where we've run into some real, some real challenges," Touchstone said. "Teacher shortages are all over the state of Idaho and we're just trying to figure out how to encourage people to go there."

According to the Idaho Division for Career and Technical Education, there are several ways to become a CTE teacher:

  • Go through a teacher preparation program
  • Hold a dual four-year degree
    • the division has partnered with BSU to offer this to computer science majors and a few other degrees
  • Take the occupational route.

Touchstone explains the occupational route is one he took personally--and often opens the door for those who didn't originally plan on becoming educators.

"We say 'okay you've been in the industry for however many years and you have a depth of knowledge of content,' so they come in with a really strong content knowledge they're just lacking the teacher part of it," Touchstone said. "We put them into a two-year cohort, we cover the cost, and we pair them up with mentors within the school and within the state."

Our media partners, Idaho Ed News, report back in the 2020 legislative session Sen. Dave Lent, R-Idaho Falls, introduced a bill to boost career-technical education opportunities for K-12 students. HB-222 was signed into law on April 15, 2021.