For high school students, choosing a career path can be a difficult decision. They weigh many factors, such as personal interests, the rising cost of higher education, earning potential and accessibility of job opportunities. And in recent years, the challenging economy and job market has left many students uncertain about taking their next steps. A 2019 survey found that only about half of our high school students feel prepared for the workforce.
November is National Career Development Month, reminding us of the importance of equipping our students to unlock their potential as they enter the workforce. Career development begins in the classroom. Just as athletes spend the off-season prepping and practicing prior to stepping on the field, career development should begin prior to students stepping into their first job. Our schools should prioritize practical education and career development resources for America’s students. We need their skills and talents to grow our economy and lead us into a more prosperous future — and certain skills can be taught prior to graduating high school.
For example, Career and Technical Education and Career and Technical Student Organizations, such as Future Farmers of America, Future Career and Community Leaders of America and Future Business Leaders of America, are great tools for our students, by preparing them to successfully launch into their careers.
These organizations expose students to unique development opportunities and help them sharpen their leadership, critical thinking and communication abilities. In addition to classes where they learn real-life concepts, students can explore their interests through rigorous competitions and conferences. As a former FFA officer, I can personally attest to the positive impact the organization made in my life. I’m proud to see many students continue to benefit from similar experiences.
Whether students choose to attend a four-year university, pursue a two-year technical program or immediately enter the workforce after high school, their CTE experiences teach them valuable skills they’ll carry with them for the rest of their careers. These skills in turn fulfill critical employer needs. A recent study found that 77 percent of employers hired an employee because of their CTE experience. Not only are CTE students increasing their career opportunities, but their salaries as well — data from the U.S. Department of Education shows students who participated in CTE courses have higher median incomes than their counterparts who did not.
Advanced education is not the only remedy for workforce shortages — we need Americans who are prepared to work in all sectors of the economy, especially the skilled roles that power our industries. To continue fueling economic growth in our state, we must ensure we have adequate training and pathways to good-paying jobs. We must do more to support our CTE faculty, students and programs so that Alabama maintains its strong workforce.
I hope more students will take advantage of the CTE courses and find a way to expand their skills and interests through participation in CTSOs. Thanks to our teachers, chapter advisers and dedicated career and technical education faculty for empowering our students to take advantage of the many opportunities available to them. Your work is key to securing a bright future for our state.
Senator Tommy Tuberville represents Alabama in the United States Senate and is a member of the Senate Armed Services, Agriculture, Veterans’ Affairs and HELP committees.
See complete story in the Journal Record.