It has been said, “Experience is what you get just after you need it.” That statement certainly held true for me when I graduated college with a business degree in 2006. I began looking for a job that would better use my degree; however, during my search I ran into the problem of having the education, but not the experience that prospective employers desired. I wondered how could someone get both an education and job experience.
The answer lies in Career and Technical Education (CTE). Across the country, high school students have the opportunity to participate in elective classes geared toward specific careers. These classes allow students to learn career-related skills that will make them better employees and help them gain experience desired by employers.
For example, a student from the Greene Technology Center, a stand-alone CTE high school serving 400 students in East Tennessee, who took courses in machine tool technology and engineering as well as dual-enrollment courses with the Tennessee College of Applied Technology (TCAT), recently graduated and was immediately employed in a machine shop at a local industry with a starting salary of $35,000. This student had gained the education as well as the experience necessary for a successful career.
Not only can students take CTE classes and learn skills for future success, but they can also participate in work-based learning programs that allow them to be on a job site and learn from an employee doing the job the student is training for. This opportunity allows students to see their skills in action, apply their knowledge and gain on-the-job training that will benefit them later in life.
Furthermore, CTE students can finish their postsecondary education in two years or less at community or technical colleges where they gain experience-based skills that are geared toward high-paying careers in areas such as robotics, welding, machining and nursing.
In Tennessee, students can gain their certification with no debt thanks to Tennessee Promise, the tuition-free community and technical college initiative that is serving as a model for other states and the nation. For such graduates, the starting salaries are good, ranging from $36,000-$66,000, and job prospects are excellent. According to the American Nurses Association nationwide there is a need for more than one million new nurses by 2022, while the Manufacturing Institute estimates the country will need two million skilled manufacturing workers by 2025.
Experience no longer has to be what one gets just after it is needed. It is something that students can gain from the time they enter high school until they leave a post-secondary institution.
So until we start seeing job postings with “No experience necessary” in the heading, let’s promote CTE, work-based learning, Tennessee Promise and the Drive to 55 and help our students get the experience they need.