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Where Career Technical Education has Been, Where it's Going, What it Means for Students

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As the United States continues its transition from a nation whose economic growth and workforce were largely sustained by the industrial age, the focus is and will continue to be on succeeding in a competitive, global economy. The shift to the digital age has required business and industry at all levels to rely heavily on information technology and a workforce that has the knowledge to manage resources and maximize profit for employers. While the shift to the digital age has profoundly affected an employer's need for a more highly-educated worker, the need of business owners for trained workers who know how to get the job done has always existed.

The Evolution of Career Pathways to Career Clusters

The concept of career technical education in its earliest form dates back to the early 1900s. At that time, for example, the federal government invested tax dollars in support of teaching agriculture, trades and home economics in public schools through the Smith-Hughes Act of 1917. Over the decades, federal legislation was enacted that expanded career technical education through passage of the Vocational Education Act of 1963 and of various iterations of the Carl D. Perkins Vocational and Technical Education Act in 1984, 1990 and 1998, which ultimately put measures in place to ensure emphasis on challenging academic AND technical rigor while preparing students for careers, not just jobs.

Other legislation enacted in the 1980s and 1990s that influenced career and technical education (CTE) was the Secretary's Commission on Achieving Necessary

Skills (SCANS), which pinpointed foundational skills and employability skills needed for success in the workplace. The National School-to-Work opportunities Act and the Building Linkages Project were also pivotal in the quest to promote successful transitions from school to work. Yet, it was the Building Linkages Projects that were based on skill standards that served as the basis for career pathways. The career pathways milestone, eventually gave way to 16 career clusters.

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