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Let’s talk about CTE! When is it too early to begin talking with your child about careers? The answer is it’s never too early! This is why Learn Bright is creating a series of Career and Technical Education lesson plans.

It might surprise you that 98% of high schools offer Career and Technical Education (CTE) courses. All state education departments in the United States include CTE curriculum lesson plans beginning in kindergarten.

The purpose is to educate students about the types of jobs and career opportunities. So, what exactly is CTE?


children dressing up for different careers

CTE is education that prepares students for a wide range of career opportunities. Some courses are business management, culinary arts, cybersecurity, digital design & communication, health sciences, and many high-demand technical skills like electrical, plumbing, or construction.

CTE prepares students for the world of work. It allows students to explore different career options in a hands-on environment. CTE doesn’t replace academic preparation or work – it enhances it.

Students can see the practical application of the subjects they learn in real life. The aptitudes and interests of students form the foundation of career and technical education. How is CTE different from College Preparatory Education (CPE)?


CTE includes more hands-on experiences. For example, a student interested in being an electrician might apprentice with an experienced electrician. If they wanted to be a nurse, they might spend a few hours a week in a hospital assisting nurses as they provide care.

Students may earn certificates or work credits through internships. CTE is not a replacement for college preparation but rather an alternative for students who want to earn and learn. In a CPE program, students learn the academic foundational skills needed to complete a four-year degree.

Since all education is oriented towards college prep, all students learn the foundational skills. In either program, students may earn credit toward a two or four-year degree.

The question you may have isn’t a college degree preferable to a technical education degree? Why would I want my child to pursue a technical education instead of college prep? People mistakenly believe that elementary, middle, and high school students are directed in one specific way or another.

The foundational skills of literacy, writing, and mathematics do not differ from college prep and career technical in elementary and much of middle school. There may be advanced courses like AP in middle or high school programs.

However, students focusing on CPE are not excluded from taking AP or advanced coursework. And, when does having more choice ever disadvantage students?

College Isn’t for Everyone

Career and Technical Training/ CTE options

The simple fact is that college is not for everyone. According to the National Center for Education Statistics, less than half of students graduate in four years. Many take six years to earn a four-year degree, which significantly increases the cost of education.

Statistics about how many students drop out of college are hard to come by. The best guess is between twenty-five and forty percent of students drop out of college and do not return.

There are several reasons for students not completing a college degree. The point is not to belittle college education. Many employers prefer college graduates over non-college graduates.

Higher-earning careers like physicians, lawyers, and engineers require a high skill level. A university education is the most appropriate path.

Education and Training

There are serious shortages in the US tech field, like cybersecurity, automation, data design, and artificial intelligence. The need is so severe that many companies offer on-the-job training, scholarships to two-year programs, or pay the way for high school students to become proficient in these critical areas.

Add to that the continuous need for electricians, construction managers, plumbing engineers, and other repair services. Entrepreneurial-oriented students have an opportunity to fill critical shortages and utilize their aptitudes in careers outside the traditional college experience.

Again, this does not mean that a person may choose to earn a four-year degree later in life. Many do. Having options is never a bad thing.

A personal example illustrates this point. My best friend in high school scored a near-perfect score on the SAT. Bill (not his real name) was overrun with scholarship offers from several prestigious universities nationwide.

His math scores were off the chart, catching the attention of engineering schools. Most of Bill’s day in high school consisted of meeting college recruiters.

Different Career Paths

Construction Site table for CTE class

In elementary school, Bill was one of those kids who couldn’t sit still. He drove his teachers nuts! Bill liked school projects involving design, creating, and building stuff. He had a relative in the construction business, and on weekends, they would go to construction sites.

Fast forward to middle school. Beginning in sixth grade, Bill worked with a finishing carpenter doing odd jobs like cleaning up job sites and moving construction materials. A finishing carpenter is the person who does all the fancy millwork, hangs doors, and completes the trim like crown molding in a house.

In tenth grade, we all had to take shop. For those born after 1990, shop class taught you to use power tools to build and fix things. For example, one of our assignments was to build something – usually a birdhouse, shelf, table, or skimboard.

Another time, we learned about the combustion engine. The assignment was to work in teams, disassemble a lawnmower engine, reassemble it, and start it. Everyone wanted Bill to work with them as he had a knack for cutting perfect edges and using tools.

Bill began taking the CTE course and his regular school work in tenth grade. As I wrote earlier, Bill couldn’t sit still in class, and the opportunity to do something other than sit was appealing. Bill left school for a few hours each week as part of the course and worked with a finishing carpenter.

Fast forward to high school graduation. After graduating, Bill turned down free education at the university, enrolled in a carpentry course, and began working full-time as the finishing carpenter he interned with during his CTE program in high school. Bill’s teachers tried to talk him out of not going to college.

Long Term Career Goals

Child looking at CTE career goals

Teachers are capable of many things. Predicting someone’s future success is not one of them. Five years later, Bill opened a millwork and carpentry shop. When I last saw him, Bill was employing several dozen carpenters and doing finishing work in several states.

You may think Bill is unique, but his success story happens more often than people imagine. That is not the point of the story. The point of the story is Bill had options.

The reverse is also true. Some students will take CTE courses and discover they don’t want to pursue a career in a particular field. College is a better alternative for them. Again, when does having more choices ever disadvantage students?

Start the Conversation Now

The original question is, when is it too early to begin talking with your child about careers – elementary, middle, or high school? The answer is it’s never too early!

We want to raise children who become productive and content adults. Children who have a variety of experiences at a young age make better decisions in the future.

Learn Bright has a library of resources to make this vision a reality! Be sure to check back soon to download our new CTE lesson plans!