Brandon Williams

Dr. Brandon Williams

I hope by now people are beginning to understand what CTE stands for: Career and Technical Education.

I also hope that we are making progress in truly explaining what CTE is, not just what it stands for.

As mentioned in the last column, I often tell folks it is similar to what they likely called “vocational education” when they were in high school. That is a great place to start when trying to understand what CTE is and what we are trying to do.

However, it is just that, a starting point.

When I was still a classroom teacher, I would often tell my students that there are two myths that permeated public education. Both are just as false today as they were then.

Myth 1: You need to go to college to get a good job.

It is simply not true that you have to go to college to get a good job or to be successful. My parents are great examples of this; neither my mom or dad attended college, yet they are two of the most successful people I know who have each held good jobs their entire adult lives. Nevertheless, multiple generations of high school graduates were led to believe this.

Myth 2: If you go to college, you will get a good job.

This one is also false, and I would argue is laughably absurd. It is not a laughing matter, though, when someone invests four or more years of their time and accrues thousands of dollars in debt to earn a degree that will not lead to meaningful and profitable employment.

Think about it for a moment, most of us know someone who has a college degree that has never been put to use, or if it was put to use it was in a job they really didn’t want to begin with or that paid so little they can’t afford to make the monthly student loan payments they now face.

Fortunately, I think we have made some headway toward debunking those myths in the eyes of the students we serve and their parents. I believe one reason we have seen a rebranding of CTE over the last several years is a direct result of these two myths and the consequences faced by many who believed them.

We are finally grasping the value of immersive application based learning when it comes to helping students find a career. In the first column, we discussed high quality work-based learning in the form of internships and pre-apprenticeships. In the second column, we discussed giving students the opportunity to earn nationally recognized industry credentials.

If you will recall, we discussed intrinsic motivation in my last column. There is a strategy to all of this, and the end goal is that we have fewer people racking up debt they will not be able to afford to earn a degree they will not need or to land in a career in which they are unhappy.

We have to help students first explore what careers might give them purpose and allow them to earn a living at the same time. Then we have to get them plugged into coursework where they are able to verify their interests through applied learning both in the classroom and in work-based learning settings.

Once verified, a student can then get a head start on what they will need to get the career they want; that might include taking some dual enrollment or advanced placement courses and earning credit at a post-secondary institution whether it be a community college, trade school, or a university. It might also include earning some certifications while they are still in high school that will make them more marketable as potential employees.

Please do not mistake me; I am not saying no one needs to go to college. As a matter of fact, many of the students enrolled in our CTE programs will absolutely need to attend a university and earn a bachelor’s degree or even higher.

The point I am trying to make is this: education should not, and often does not stop after high school, but it does not look the same for everyone. It might be education in the form of on the job training or apprenticeship. Some will work full-time and attend evening classes to earn a certificate, diploma, or a license.

Others will attend school full-time and enter the labor pool after two or four years. Some might even go to work for a few years before deciding to enroll in post-secondary training later. All of these approaches are legitimate and viable options. Some make more sense than others depending on the circumstances, but is that not true of most anything in the real world?

Our charge, in CTE, includes the following:

1. We need to help students explore what careers are available to them and ensure they have a realistic understanding of the labor market and outlook for employment.

2. We need to help them apply the knowledge they have gained in academic and CTE courses so they have an opportunity to discover if they are intrinsically motivated by a career field.

3. Once we do that, we need to spend the rest of the time we have with them helping them get a head start on getting to that career.

Middle and high school counselors had the opportunity to attend a training a couple of weeks ago where we discussed these things.

We discussed the myths outlined above, the various paths that are available for students, and the importance of CTE in helping students wind up where they want to be in terms of their careers. Kevin J. Fleming Ph.D. was the keynote speaker. Dr. Fleming articulates these points far more eloquently than I am able. I encourage you to look him up, read one of his books, or listen to some of his presentations on YouTube or on his website.

Dr. William Brandon is the supervisor of Hawkins County Schools’ Career and Technical Education program. You can email him at