Education Commissioner Candice McQueen announced Wednesday that the state is now furthering its work to make sure students receive an education that aligns with the needs of Tennessee’s workforce.
The state is working to introduce 21 new department-promoted industry certification options, which will be a part of career and technical programs offered at schools across the state, bringing the number of career and technical education programs with specific certifications up to 46 from 30.
“As we seek to prepare more students for college and careers — especially in our state’s high-demand industries, such as information technology and health science — we must provide more opportunities for students to earn meaningful credentials and certifications while in high school,” McQueen said. “This is the largest single-year increase of promoted industry certifications since we have implemented a state-recognized list of aligned industry certifications and annual review process through our CTE reform work.”
These recent developments have prompted local districts to identify what career and technical programs they already offer that will help meet the needs of workforce development in the region and enhance existing career and technical programs.
“We already have a few in place,” Julia Decker, Science Hill High School’s College, Career and Technical Education program director, said.
The ongoing process of figuring out where localities like Johnson City play into this state plan involves analyzing the local industry needs of the region, which the Science Hill program has already accomplished with its emphasis on health care-related courses, such as nursing programs that allow students to leave with a CNA endorsement and go straight to work with a local health care provider.
“The state is now asking us to help more students leave as a ‘ready graduate.’ One of the ways they can do that is get an industry certification along with a couple post-secondary opportunities,” David Timbs, supervisor of secondary and instructional technology, said. “We’re working as a region to see which certifications best fit the needs of our region.”
The Tennessee Department of Education does an annual review of each of the state’s 16 career clusters to ensure that secondary education pathways for students are aligned with the needs of industry and provide rigorous education to allow students to prepare for career and college opportunities once they leave high school.
During this process, department officials will review the list of industry certifications requested from districts and vet those with statewide industry advisory councils to ensure career pathways for students.
This is something local district officials have been keeping in mind in recent years, Timbs said.
“There’s a lot of cooperation among the administrative team to create integration between career and technical courses and academic courses to raise awareness about CTE classes that are applicable to academic pursuits,” Timbs said, adding that career and technical courses often coincide with academic studies.
In other words, the aim of state and local education officials is to design career, technical and academic courses to “build upon each other,” which can help build students’ workforce credentials.
This approach aims to increase the attainment of industry certifications, transference of industry certifications to future job opportunities for students and ensure consistency in all industry-promoted certifications, according to the Tennessee Department of Education.
Across the state, there have already been improvements in terms of career and technical education pathways for students. As of 2017, about 37,000 students across the state are concentrating in these types of courses — 40 percent more than in 2015. And while only 26 percent of technical students concentrated in programs leading directly to high-demand job markets in their region two years ago, that number has jumped dramatically to 76 percent as of 2017.
“Our growth has been steady. Within our CTE courses, we’ll have at least 100 concentrators each year,” Decker said of students focusing their studies in the CCTE program. “I think we had about 185 students (concentrating in CCTE courses) last year.”
For more details on the new Tennessee Department of Education certification options, visit the Tennessee Department of Education’s website at www.tn.gov/education/career-and-technical-education.html.