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What is the purpose of an education? To fulfill a human desire to learn? To establish building blocks for creativity? To prepare children and adults to join society in careers that form a diverse, cohesive and productive world? Perhaps we can agree that a good education system contributes to all of these things. 

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Why then do public and private school educations center around an abstract curriculum?
We’ve touted the importance of a STEM-focused curriculum, which takes traditional topics like math and science and weaves them into an interdisciplinary approach to learning. 
Similarly, a high-quality Vocational Tech or Career and Technical Education offer “contextualized” learning for students, or ways for students to master technical and academic content by applying it to a specific industry or career pathway. CTE offers students hands-on learning that focuses on solving a problem or undertaking a project that is reflective of an authentic, real-world challenge.

What is Career and Technical Education? 
CTE prepares students to be career-ready by teaching abstract academic skills in combination with technical, job-specific skills. CTE includes architecture and construction, transportation and logistics, automotive maintenance, hospitality and tourism, manufacturing, agriculture and natural resources, and the arts, among other industries. 

CTE and Business
CTE addresses the skills gap by training students to enter high-growth industries with tangible and transferable credentials. The skilled trades are the hardest jobs to fill in the United States. Students have become highly educated, but many lack the skills needed for building infrastructure or for joining a growing healthcare industry. Admittedly, societal opinion in the USA, including that of parents, has for the last few decades emphasized the importance of a four-year degree. While there are many jobs that benefit from a Bachelor’s or Master’s level student, many important and necessary careers require a skillset that can be learned in less than two years and mastered through an apprenticeship and on-the-job training. A mindset shift may be required here, not every student is destined or suited, to attend a four-year university. 

CTE and the Homeschool Advantage
Homeschooled children spend approximately 3 hours per day studying to keep themselves on grade level with their schooled peers. That’s three times less than average schooled children. This also means that your homeschooled child spends less time studying what doesn’t interest them and there are more hours in the day to study and learn what does. 

You don’t have to be highly skilled in any of the CTE career options in order to instill curiosity and learning opportunities in your student’s school day. In fact, it’s a great way to expand your own interests and skillset! So how can those extra hours be used to benefit your homeschooled student, as well as your family as a whole by engaging them in activities that lead to job skills? Simple. Chores!

Education begins at birth. Even something as seemingly simple as learning how to keep house for example can lead a child toward their interests and potential career paths. Doing laundry becomes part of an elective lesson in fabrics, color palettes, mending, and potentially an interest in fashion, tailoring or costume design. Many car and bicycle maintenance tasks are relatively simple and require only a few tools or materials. Teach your students to change the oil in the family car, how to change a car or bicycle tire and the process for cleaning and lubing a bike chain and these tasks become a gateway for a career in automotive maintenance or as a bicycle mechanic. Master a free accounting software such as Freshbooks and teach your budding accountant or entrepreneur about billing, accounts receivable and how to set a business up for filing quarterly taxes. 

A Change in Apprenticeship Laws and Regulations
The shortages of specifically trained workers cut across multiple job sectors, from construction trades to agriculture, manufacturing, information technology and healthcare.
In recent years apprenticeships have been few and far between. Of the 146 million jobs in the United States, about 0.35% — or slightly more than a half-million — were filled by active apprentices in 2016. 

In June 2017, President Trump signed an executive order to roughly double the taxpayer money spent on learn-to-earn programs from $100 to $200 million. The money would come from existing job training programs. Industries are given the freedom and flexibility to design apprenticeships that suit the rapidly changing technologies used. Standards are set by the Labor Department and organizations like the National Coalition of Certification Centers (NC3) connect community colleges with industries seeking highly skilled recent graduates. Fortunately, Apprenticeships in Texas may be eligible for Pell Grants and early eligible applicants are likely to receive financial aid. 

CTE in Texas 
Texas has now launched 60x30TX, a strategic plan in higher education aiming to position the workforce in Texas amongst the highest achieving states in the country and in the global marketplace. 60x30TX is entirely student-centered and its aims include:
    60% of young adults (25-34) will hold a postsecondary credential by 2030
    All graduates will have marketable skills regardless of major
    No student will graduate with debt exceeding 60% of their first-year wages

In Texas, 77% of all high school students take at least one CTE course, and one in four students takes three or more courses in a single program area. 

To help you set up a successful CTE-bound curriculum, many colleges provide a list of required courses on their website. You can get a general feel for the expectations of a Career and Technical Education program just by reviewing course requirements. Use this as a guideline to discuss career goals with your students and to lead them toward their personal interests. Creating opportunities to explore their own passions will help your student to avoid the cumbersome “major selection”, particularly if academia doesn’t interest them. Which is fine! It is good to remember that society functions well with participants who have varied skill sets. 

CTE may not be the final answer
While some countries, particularly in Europe, stress vocational education that develops specific job-related skills, others, like the U.S., emphasize general education that provides students with broad knowledge and basic skills.  Critics suggest that if people acquire skills that are finely tuned to current employment opportunities, they might not be particularly prepared to adjust to new technologies. As businesses grow larger, technology improves and worker needs transform, people with vocational training may be more likely to be out of the labor market later in their life.

However, the benefit of a well-rounded technical education is the emphasis on transferable skills. Vocational training is not only the hands-on, obvious skills of building, fixing or creating. No, perhaps even more important are the intangible skills acquired through CTE-focused learning. Confidence, creativity, good communication, adaptability, and curiosity should all be considered part of an interdisciplinary education. As technology advances, manufacturing plants close, how we use natural resources continues to change, industries become obsolete and the workforce ages, homeschool teachers can prepare their students for a dynamic career and the confidence to grow and change as our society’s needs do. 

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