What Is Career and Technical Education (CTE)?

“Our world has changed. In today’s highly-technical knowledge-based economy, having hands-on skills and perfecting what one is good at can be more valuable than getting a degree in ‘something’ simply to get one.” – South Central Service Cooperative 

Take a moment to think back to your high school years. Do you feel like your classes prepared you for the real world? 

If you answered “no”, you’re not alone. The Association of American Colleges and Universities conducted a survey that found that only 55% of students attending high school feel prepared to enter the workforce.

Another study by the Kauffman Foundation found a disconnect between high school and the real world. Survey participants – including parents and employers – indicated that students are graduating high school college-ready, but not career-ready. Survey answers also agreed that “life skills” are the most important when preparing students for success in the workforce. 

Because of this, more schools are incorporating career and technical education (CTE) programs into their curriculum. In 2020-2021, there were over 12.3 million students enrolled in CTE programs across the country. 

Defining Career and Technical Education (CTE)

What is career and technical education

Career and Technical Education (CTE) programs prepare students for postsecondary education and the workforce by providing technical, academic and employability skills. These programs provide students with a variety of career exploration opportunities, allowing students to fully understand their career interests and aptitudes. 

CTE programs focus on a set of career clusters, each representing a broad sector of the job market.  Common clusters include:

Career and Technical Education Career Clusters

  1. Business, Marketing and Management
  2. Agriculture, Food and Natural Resources
  3. Communication and Information Systems
  4. Skilled and Technical Sciences
  5. Health Sciences
  6. Human Sciences and Education 

And while specific career and technical education programs may differ from school to school, the goals of these programs remain the same: 

  1. Provide opportunities for career exploration within targeted career clusters to help students find their purpose and passion. 
  2. Provide real-life experience for students prior to high school graduation through apprenticeships, internships, job shadowing and more. 
  3. Provide each student with the academic and technical skills needed to pursue additional education (technical school, community college, college or university) or transition into the workforce. 

How CTE Supports Students with Learning Disabilities 

Though CTE courses benefit everyone, CTE especially helps students with learning disabilities. 

Throughout the United States, students with disabilities are less likely to graduate on time, attend college or be employed compared to those without a disability. But, studies have shown that students with disabilities who participate in CTE programs have far better outcomes including: 

  • 3% fewer unexcused absences
  • 5% more likely to graduate high school on time
  • 20% more likely to be employed after graduation 

Incorporating a CTE program that supports inclusiveness will help students with disabilities be successful later on in life and in future careers. 

CTE in Early Childhood Education

While most career and technical education programs are established in high schools, many professionals believe that even younger students could benefit from career exploration and the introduction of CTE within their curriculum. In fact, research shows that students as young as fifth grade (10 years old) have already started narrowing down career options and identifying early career aspirations. 

So, how can school districts incorporate CTE in early childhood education? 

Today's children will pursue several careers throughout their lives, as opposed to the one or two careers of previous generations. It’s astounding to think that today’s elementary students will not start their careers until sometime around 2040! (Can you imagine all the new and exciting career pathways that will be available 20 years from now?) Given this, CTE in early childhood education should focus on teaching students the skills that they will need to succeed in any career. These skills include: 

  • Communicating well with others
  • Being kind to others
  • Being a good problem solve
  • Being able to adapt

With an early introduction to valuable work skills, students will be well-positioned for any career path. 

Spaces That Support CTE

Gone are the days of the “one-size-fits-all” classroom! Flexibility and adaptability are key for any successful CTE learning space to support the needs of each learner and their individual goals. 

These spaces should also allow for easy technology integration, as it helps students remain engaged and provide a more immersive experience. Learn more about designing modern CTE classrooms

At Diversified Spaces, we offer hands-on furniture solutions that support CTE education, including health sciences, manufacturing and construction, and robotics. Reach out to one of our experts today to find out more. 


It’s no doubt that career and technical education is an important part of a student’s success. CTE is an invaluable tool for preparing today’s students to thrive in tomorrow’s workforce.