“What do you want to be when your grow up?” was a question I remember being asked often as a kid, though I never really had a good answer. A wedding planner? A professional crafter? Is that even a thing? Though I always knew I wanted to do something “creative” when I grew up, zeroing in on exactly what I wanted to do for the rest of my life was a daunting decision for a high school student.
Through our recent work with the Oregon Department of Education, I’ve learned that my high school experience is more common than I realized. Not every student has a clear picture of what they want to do when they graduate. Which is where Career and Technical Education programs come in.
CTE programs offer a wide range of classes and give students a chance to explore different career opportunities they might like to pursue after high school. These are not just the old school “Vo-Tech” classes from my, or even my parent’s, high school experience. CTE programs are designed to support students in acquiring technical skills and academic knowledge critical for success in the high-wage, in-demand careers of today’s job market, that is currently facing shortage of qualified applicants.
Though CTE classes are offered statewide in all public high schools, enrollment has been stagnant as students and families are unaware and underutilizing the programs. This is especially true for students of color, where their participation rates are even lower than their mainstream peers. Given that, we were tasked with developing a strategic communications campaign to highlight the benefits of CTE and reframe the way people view and participate in CTE classes.
Our campaign centers around the key insight that finding one’s passion through CTE allows everything else to fall into place. The campaign included a mix video, radio and print stories featuring current and former CTE students and instructors sharing how CTE helped them find their place in the world.
We also developed a comprehensive toolkit to support school districts as they promote CTE offerings to their individual school communities. The toolkit included posters, flyer, and communication templates for promoting CTE classes to students/families. It also included social media content, fact sheets, talking points and tips for reaching out to local news media.
The campaign has only been running a few weeks and we are continuing to capture more student stories, but we’ve already received positive feedback, including this message from an industry representative on the CTE Advisory Council:
I started my journey of pushing for more robust and integrated career technical education now 25+ years ago. I’ve ridden the waves of funding ups and downs, budgets including expansion of courses, budgets slicing them away. It’s been a long journey but SO worth it as we all help kids find “their passions” as several of the speakers in the videos conveyed. Learning with ALL our senses… THAT’S CTE and I’m proud, delighted, and excited about the future. FINALLY, we are helping our next generations touch and feel what ignites their interest and how it can help guide them towards something they truly love to do.”
This is the time of year where many high school students begin forecasting classes for their next school term. With any luck, this campaign will pique interest in CTE programs and help students much like myself, find their passion and in the end, find themselves too.