Today's Career Technical Education in Nebraska: This is not your parents' "voc-ed" class

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The jobs of today and tomorrow in Nebraska require technical skills and knowledge that set the bar very high for high school and college students preparing for a career. And that has dramatically changed the educational approach in Nebraska schools to help students get ready.

Medical Class

Students in the Health Occupations Students of America (HOSA) career student organization at Kearney Senior High listen intently as a member of the Good Samaritan Hospital staff talks about the healthcare profession.

"The stereotype of 'vocational education' was that it was for students not planning to pursue postsecondary education," said Rich Katt, Director of Career Education for the Nebraska Department of Education. "But the workforce landscape has changed dramatically—demanding a new approach called Career Technical Education (CTE), that integrates academics and technical skills to get students ready for success in career and college. CTE is about all students of all levels and interests, because that's the way the economy works today."

Katt noted that technical skills are fundamental to virtually every occupation. "Your auto mechanic uses computers to diagnose your engine. Trucking companies, retail stores and distribution centers use sophisticated tracking and logistics systems. Hospitals rely on high-tech monitoring and analysis devices. Farmers are using precision GPS technology. If you don't have an understanding of these systems, you're simply not going to be competitive in the job market," he said.

CTE classes build on core academic classes to help students apply that knowledge in real-life situations. "It makes it more relevant to them and you do see improvement in their grades and in their desire to be at school," said Shannen Peterson, a teacher at Omaha Northwest who helps lead that school's CTE program in law, government and international diplomacy. "Our goal is to make sure this program is relevant and gives them a true understanding of what a career in this area is about."

Career Technical Education in Nebraska schools:

Jackson NorthStar

Career technical education (CTE) teacher Charmain Satree of Lincoln North Star works with students in the construction lab on a shingling project that involves the application of math skills learned in academic courses.

"CTE is not the dumping ground it was once thought to be," said Kathy Gifford, a CTE teacher at Kearney Senior High School. "We have both honor students and students who struggle academically—and they can all be in the same class at the same time, just like a real-life work situation. It's a great life experience for students, because when you get out into the work world, you don't work with everybody who is just like you."

Charmain Satree, CTE instructor at Lincoln North Star, says that CTE is a valuable experience for students regardless of their career pathway. "I have kids who are headed to engineering college, kids going to two-year colleges and others that are stepping right into the world of work," she said. "I think it's one of the most important, lifelong learning experiences that kids will ever take with them."