Missouri students are potentially missing out on thousands of job opportunities because the career and technical education (CTE) programs in our high schools are not properly preparing them. While earning a credential or license can give high school graduates a jump start on college or a career, very few are earning credentials for jobs that pay well or that are in demand.
During the 2017–18 school year, over 180,000 high schoolers in Missouri took at least one CTE class, but fewer than 28,000 concentrated (taking three or more classes) in any one area. What’s more, fewer than 8,000 students earned an industry-recognized credential (IRC), a signal to employers that the student has mastered some set of skills. Many Missouri students—especially those not interested in going to college—could benefit from earning an IRC and leaving high school career ready.
A recent report from ExcelinEd shows that there are thousands of well-paying jobs that could be readily accessible to Missouri’s high schoolers if they were earning the right credentials. According to the report, Missouri met only one out of five indicators of a quality CTE program.
To put in perspective what kind of opportunities students are missing out on, let’s take a look at careers in just two industries. In 2018, some 617 students in Missouri earned an Automotive Service Excellence Certification. But there were over 3,600 job postings requiring that credential, and these jobs paid over $15 an hour last year. The unmet demand is also apparent in digital designing. There were over 3,300 job postings for Adobe Certified Associate and Adobe Certified Expert credentials each—again, these jobs pay at least $15 an hour—yet there were only 146 Missouri high school students who earned an Associate credential, and none received the Expert credential. Perhaps not enough students are interested in these careers to meet the demand, but are they even aware of these opportunities?
One way to improve awareness and options for students is through teacher bonus pay. If CTE teachers have skin in the game—for instance, $50 for every student of theirs who earns an IRC—they would have an incentive to get more students that could excel in a particular field working towards earning an IRC. Florida has such a program and students there earned over 140,000 credentials during the 2016–17 school year. Overall, one in six Florida high school students earned a credential, compared to just one in twenty high school students in Missouri.
Like many states, Missouri has a workforce problem. But with some simple changes, which other states have implemented successfully, we could increase the number of students earning credentials, while aligning those credentials to the job market. Good information paired with the right incentives can help move Missouri’s CTE in the right direction.