This fall, I have been travelling around the state, attending county school boards association meetings, and talking about the report of NJSBA’s Task Force on Educational Opportunities for the Non-College-Bound Learner.  I am pleased by the warm reception the report has received.  In the process, I’ve heard many stories from board members about the need for more programming to serve students who are headed into careers, rather than to four-year colleges, after high school graduation. Throughout the state there is tremendous interest in the topic of career and technical education (CTE).

I have also been visiting vocational-technical schools, and have been struck by the enthusiasm of the students I have met. They are engaged and eager to learn the skills that will help them prosper for a lifetime.

Talking to these students also makes me think about the students for whom there were no available spots in vocational-technical schools, as well as those who might have liked to attend, but hadn’t even considered the option.  As the NJSBA report reminded us, approximately 17,000 students are turned away from CTE programs in the vocational schools each year. At the same time, many manufacturing and technical jobs go unfilled because our state does not have enough workers are trained to perform them.

Recently NJSBA sat down to talk about opportunities for career-focused students with leaders of comprehensive K-12 schools, and vocational-technical school districts and their association leadership. Facilitating such discussions is an important initiative that we will continue.

Career-focused learners received good news in November, when New Jersey voters approved the half-billion-dollar “Securing Our Children’s Future Bond Act.” The act will allocate $350 million for career and technical education expansion at county vocational-technical schools and security enhancements in all school districts.

The criteria for awarding CTE grants through the bond issue will have to be finalized by the commissioner of education. What is clear at this juncture is that the grants are just a beginning. CTE program expansion must go beyond the bond issue and must involve the state’s comprehensive high schools. As our task force report pointed out, the state’s comprehensive high schools can help close the gap in meeting the needs of the career-focused students.

In developing its report, the task force made nine findings on the delivery, funding and breadth of programming for the career-focused student. Among the most prominent is the following:

“New Jersey needs to rethink the best methods to deliver appropriate training to students, to increase the pool of career technology education teachers, to align curriculum with necessary skill acquisition, and to test students to assure they have both the hard and the “soft” skills, such as punctuality and teamwork, that will serve them in their careers.”

Meeting these goals will require collaboration among comprehensive high schools, county vocational school districts, county colleges, business, industry and labor, and others. The New Jersey School Boards Association is proud to be working to help foster this collaboration.