Here are three important statistics about jobs and education in the US economy that you may not know:
#1: US job openings rose to 7.4 million in early 2021
The latest figures (February 2021) from the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) show there are 7.4 million unfilled jobs in the US. This is up from 6.9 million in January 2021. The number of job openings has increased steadily from 5.9 million in June 2020.
If we go further back, to February 2018, the figure was 6.1 million. These are all good signs that students will have employment opportunities upon graduating, but…
#2: Only 23% of students are enrolled in CTE courses learning skills for work and careers
From a 5–17-year-old school population of nearly 54 million students in the US, 12.5 million are enrolled in CTE (Career and Technical Education) courses. That means around 23% are being trained in skills that will lead directly to careers.
What do these statistics tell us?
First, there’s a huge skills gap in the US. We don’t yet know the impact this will have on the economy, but the need for skilled workers today is real. And it’s too high. It’s a point that Ryan Craig, Managing Director of Achieve Partners, urgently makes in his 2019 article, America’s Skills Gap: Why It’s Real, And Why It Matters.
Second, if we don’t increase the number of students in CTE courses, it’s unlikely the skills gap will get any smaller. The February 2021 figures from the BLS show that healthcare, food services, and arts and recreation sectors have the largest number of job openings.
…healthcare, food services, and arts and recreation sectors have the largest number of job openings.
Now let’s drop a staggering third statistic into the mix.
#3: School career counselors have (on average) 78% MORE students than ASCA recommends
Students connecting with counselors is crucial for student outcomes and skills development. We’ll come back to this later.
But first, what is CTE? (Feel free to skip to “Why does CTE matter” if you’re already familiar with CTE courses.)
What is CTE?
Career and Technical Education (CTE) gives students ‘the academic and technical skills, knowledge and training necessary to succeed in future careers and to become lifelong learners’ (definition taken from careertech.org).
In other words, learners build practical skills, not just knowledge.
They also build employability skills. These are the skills that help learners find work, get work–ready, and generally be able to fit into the world of work for an employer. CTE is all about preparing for careers.
There are 16 CTE career clusters ranging from health science and business through logistics, construction, science, and arts. The full list is here.
CTE is all about preparing for careers.
Why does CTE matter?
As mentioned above, only 12.5 million US students are enrolled in CTE courses. If we want more students to pursue careers where positions are open, CTE matters both for students’ job prospects and for the health of the economy.
So why are enrollments on the low side?
Perception of CTE courses is one factor. CTE courses have historically been seen as an inferior option—something for people who don’t get the grades in the purely academic subjects. Unsurprisingly, students often choose (and are pushed toward) degree courses.
In De-Stigmatizing Career and Technical Education, Jeremy Monk explores how vocational training is perceived in the US and compares it with countries like Germany and Finland, where this kind of training has no such stigma.
But the skills gap shows that our economy can’t survive on degrees alone. And even those graduates who are employed aren’t necessarily flourishing. Underemployment—doing a job that’s below a person’s abilities—is experienced by many graduates.
…the skills gap shows that our economy can’t survive on degrees alone.
Another factor in the relatively low number of CTE enrollments is that learners really don’t know what they want to do in life yet.
Committing to a career direction at the age of 16, 17, or 18 is understandably daunting.
And many students are paralyzed with the fear of making the wrong career decision…so they make no decision or choose “Undeclared”. Choosing something more generic with a vague intention ‘to specialize later’ becomes more appealing.
However, this increases the risk of changing courses, which means longer completion time, higher costs, and a higher risk of dropping out.
Students do better with CTE
According to the Association for Career & Technical Education, the graduation rate for students in CTE courses is 93%. For comparison, the average college freshman graduation rate is 80%.
Student achievement is also high in CTE courses. 91% of high school graduates with two or three CTE credits went on to enroll in college.
The graduation rate for students in CTE courses is 93% vs the average college freshman graduation at 80%
How do we get more students into the right CTE courses?
This is where school counselors have a pivotal role and influence. They have the expertise to help students find the course that’s right for them as soon as possible. Counselors are the link between students and choosing the right course direction.
But there’s a problem.
School counselors are insanely overstretched.
The student: counselor ratio recommended by ASCA (American School Counselor Association) is 250:1. That’s one counselor for 250 students.
Current data tells us that the reality is very different. Check these numbers:
- 444—the actual average number of students per counselor (444:1 ratio).
- 758—number of students per counselor in Arizona. It’s the highest ratio in the US. Sadly, not far behind Arizona are Michigan (693:1) and California (682:1).
- 47—number of states whose ratios are above ASCA’s recommendation. The only three states who meet the criteria are Vermont (207:1), Montana (207:1), and New Hampshire (237:1).
On average, counselors have 78% more students than is officially recommended.
And the higher the ratio, the less time a counselor can spend with each student. This has a negative impact on students’ engagement rates and outcomes, as this ASCA infographic shows.
But there’s another reason why a counselor’s career guidance time is likely to be cut even more. The role of school counselors covers three areas with students:
- Career development
- Academic counseling/advising
- Social-emotional learning
On average, counselors have 78% more students than is officially recommended.
The COVID-19 pandemic has caused a surge in mental health and well-being issues for students and parents. It’s highlighted other issues for many students and families too, such as lack of money and lack of access to learning resources at home. The potentially debilitating effects of the lockdown on CTE students, who typically include the less privileged/more at-risk sectors of society, is a significant concern.
Counselors may find that well-being and non-career issues take even more of their already limited time with each student.
So how can they keep students engaged in decisions about their careers?
Using interests and technology to move students toward more fitting career choices
If you find out what someone’s interested in, they need less encouragement to do it. The motivation is already there. Bringing interests into the career discussion is one way of keeping students engaged with their decisions.
Other ways to engage students are to give them:
- The resources to explore different careers and options easily.
- A mobile-friendly, easily accessible platform to explore with—something interactive with up-to-date data and information to jump between.
- A task to complete some exploration before they step into their career counseling office.
By giving students resources for career exploration before they engage with a career counselor, you’re using the career counselor’s time more effectively. This is because the meeting has a better starting point.
And this is where the VitaNavis® platform can help the process. Not just for students but for counselors and schools, too.
How students benefit from VitaNavis:
- Focus on interests and personality mapping to careers.
- Uncover the skills and competencies students have and those they need to develop while in school.
- Explore a huge range of careers and data, including projections, daily tasks, skills needed, salary ranges, and more.
How counselors benefit from VitaNavis:
- Helps them work at scale and reach large numbers of students.
- Maps students’ interests and personality to career choices (using the SuperStrong® assessment).
- Creates a better starting point for counseling conversations—students can prepare constructively beforehand.
How schools benefit from VitaNavis:
- Allows all students to have access to all the tools, which makes it equitable.
- Decreases dropouts from students who don’t know where to go next.
- Creates access to campus-wide analytics data which makes for better decision-making.
Getting students engaged in their choices is crucial. It’s even more crucial to show them choices they never knew existed. Once students have invested themselves in and taken some ownership of the process, they’re more likely to commit to it.
Getting students engaged in their choices is crucial. It’s even more crucial to show them choices they never knew existed.
Counselors won’t tell students which courses they should pursue. But they’ll ask questions about the goals students have. And then together they can look at objective data about the student’s interests and potential career paths.
From there, they can work together to plan a pathway that makes sense.
Where do we go from here?
CTE might not be for everyone. But it’s probably a better option for a lot more people than are currently enrolled.
Better-informed choices are crucial to addressing this imbalance.
With the tools on the VitaNavis platform, counselors can get students on the right path sooner—a path they like and are interested in, and a path they’ll more likely complete on time. It gives them a better way into the world of work.
And although a technological platform that jump-starts the career conversation with students doesn’t replace the personal touch, it does allow counselors to scale that touch. This is a vital consideration, especially when counselors’ time is so limited.
Want to see how the VitaNavis platform is a solution to your counselors’ and students’ needs right now?
Click here to sign up for your demo.