Bridging the Opportunity Gap: Helping Vulnerable Students Succeed

Worldwide, there are nearly 75 million young people, ages 15 to 24, who are not in school and unemployed. This situation is being described as a global crisis which requires immediate, targeted and renewed action to tackle youth education and employment issues. The U.S. is no exception. Amidst high youth unemployment rates and a growing skills gap in our nation as the baby boom generation retires, our nation is also faced with a widening opportunity gap for vulnerable young people.  In the U.S. today there are nearly 6.7 million “disconnected” young people ages 14 to 24 that are homeless, in foster care, involved in the justice system, or are neither in school or employed. According to the White House Council for Community Solutions, this roughly equates to 1 in 6 young people in this age range.

Focusing on the education and employment needs of “disconnected” youth populations is critical to meeting the President’s goal of the United States, once again, producing the world’s highest proportion of college graduates, and the world’s most competitive workforce, by the year 2020. 

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Vanishing Middle-Skill Jobs

The Kansas City Federal Reserve Bank published an article entitled “The Vanishing Middle: Job Polarization and Workers’ Response to the Decline in Middle-Skill Jobs.”  The article appears in their Economic Review, First Quarter 2013.  The research explores the demand side, as well as the supply side, of the employment equation and provides insight into some industries and occupations in CTE career pathways.

You can find the publication on the Kansas City Federal Reserve site here.

Below is a summary from their site:

The Vanishing Middle: Job Polarization and Workers’ Response to the Decline in Middle-Skill Jobs

The share of middle-skill jobs in the United States has fallen sharply in the wake of advancing technology, the rise in outsourcing jobs overseas, and contractions in manufacturing. This shift of employment toward high- and low-skill jobs, known as “job polarization,” is not well understood.

Tuzemen and Willis analyze thirty years of data from the Current Population Survey and show that changes in job composition within industries have been the primary driver of job polarization, not shifts in employment away from industries such as manufacturing.

They also find that women have responded to the trend with increased educational attainment and a pronounced shift toward high-skill jobs, while men have shifted more evenly toward both high- and low-skill jobs.

Career Pathways in Construction and Healthcare Feed Employment Demand

The U.S. Department of Labor reported that the economy added 236,000 non-farm jobs in February, according to their preliminary figures.   Industries that added workers in Career and Technical Education pathways include Construction, Healthcare, Leisure and Hospitality, and the Motion Picture and Sound Recording Industries.

Industries with the most workers added to payrolls in the last month include:

  • +44,100   Admninistrative and Waste Services
  • +39,100   Health care and Social Assistance
  • +31,700   Specialty Trade Contractors
  • +23,700   Retail Trade
  • +20,800   Motion Picture and Sound Recording
  • +26,800   Professional and Technical Services
  • +20,600   Accomodations and Food Services

Industries with largest reductions in the number of workers in the last month include:

  • -31,700    Electronics and Appliance Stores
  • -14,700    Educational Services
  • -10,000    Government

Visit www.BLS.gov to see the press release, access employment figures by industry, and dig deeper into state and local data.

Employment figures based on preliminary data reported by BLS for February 2013.

How OVAE Celebrated 2013 CTE Month

Just like CTE students, teachers, and administrators, OVAE celebrates CTE every day of every month.  However, during the month of February the pride is elevated with celebration and recognition for all that is CTE during “CTE Month”.

We used CTE Month 2013 as an opportunity to collaborate with our colleagues across the U.S. Department of Education (ED) as well as our dedicated professional associations.  We shared the message that it was CTE month and CTE Works! (this year’s theme as designated by the Association of Career and Technical Education (ACTE)).  It seemed that no workspace or office in OVAE was spared a CTE Month poster to hang with pride.  We made sure to say “Happy CTE Month!” in our phone calls, office meetings, and every chance we had.

Secretary Arne Duncan, Deputy Secretary Tony Miller, Undersecretary Martha Kanter, and Assistant Secretary Brenda Dann-Messier all contributed to the OVAE Connection newsletter; supporting articles were also sent through the Teaching Matters newsletter and Homeroom, ED’s official blog.

We were excited and proud to see two CTE students were sitting in the First Lady’s box at President Obama’s State of the Union address.

The week of February 11th saw an increased volume of social media buzz about how CTE professionals and CTSO students were celebrating CTE Month.  On my own hand held device, I read tweets and updates at #CTEMonth and #CareerTech.

ED staff also attended a student recognition event at McKinley Technology High School, which houses a STEM-focused CTE program where students have the opportunity to select one of four pathways in a STEM-related strand. The strands provide students with relevant, real-world project-based learning opportunities that prepare them for postsecondary education and 21st century careers.

On February 21st, ED hosted a policy briefing to all agency staff on how CTE is addressing the nation’s skills gap.  The session included a pair of conversations – one with educators and business leaders, and a second with Career and Technical Students Organizations (CTSO) participants. Check out the blog post recapping the briefing.

Finally, the Secretary visited the Harbor School in New York City, a CTE school that prepare students for success in college and careers through restoration of the local marine environment.

As you can see, OVAE enjoyed celebrating CTE Month and looks forward to celebrating 2014 CTE Month with you next year!

Robin Utz is the Director of the College and Career Transitions Branch in the Division of Academic and Technical Education at OVAE