Skip to content

Implement a Thriving Career & Technical Education Program

Career and Technical Education (CTE) has been around for decades and has helped million of students achieve success. So, what role does CTE play today? Today’s educators want to know more about career clusters, career pathways, how AI affects career and technical education, funding, and what a successful CTE program looks like. Read on to learn more about these topics and how CTE can prepare students for success.

Share With Your Colleagues

CTE eBook cover 2

Download Now: 5 Actions for Education Leaders on CTE Programs

Table of Contents

What is Career & Technical Education (CTE)?

According to the National Center for Education Statistics, Career and Technical Education, or CTE, is defined as the courses and programs in middle and high schools that focus on the skills and knowledge required for specific jobs or fields of work.

In other words, it is an opportunity for students to explore career options and personalize their education pathway based on their career interests as they learn a set of technical and specialized skills needed to succeed in those careers. CTE programs deliver those opportunities to students, and typically include instruction, hands-on training, and certifications that can improve students’ employability and preparedness in a career field. 

The concept of Career and Technical Education has evolved over the last 160 years through a variety of legislative acts, organizations, and outreach programs to answer the economic and workforce needs of the time. Today, CTE is an integral part of our education system that prepares future-ready students for a competitive workforce and to become lifelong learners.

What are career clusters?

With the growing number of career fields available, the U.S. Department of Education created the National Career Clusters® Framework to help organize CTE programs, curriculum, and instruction that reflect today’s workforce. There are 16 Career Clusters in the framework that help students understand and explore 79 career pathways—from agriculture, food, and natural resources to transportation, distribution and logistics!  

First let’s answer two of the most common questions about CTE to provide more clarity.  What is a career cluster and what is a career pathway? A career cluster is a grouping of career pathways related to an industry, like health sciences. And a career pathway, such as therapeutic services, is a group of occupations with similar knowledge and skill requirements. For example, the occupation of a registered nurse belongs to the therapeutic services career pathway, which in turn belongs to the career cluster for health sciences. 

Career Cluster

Health Sciences

Career Pathway

Therapeutic Services


Registered Nurse

The National Association of State Directors of Career Technical Education Consortium oversees the Career Clusters Framework. It provides a set of resources for each career cluster and career pathway to help educators develop strategic CTE programs, which include standards, knowledge & skills statements, and plans of study. 

Other organizations, like the Bureau of Labor Statistics and state education departments, also use the Career Clusters Framework as a guide to track occupations and career pathways, identify trends, and make adjustments to programs of study and economic projections. 

Which careers are trending?

The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) tracks trends within each career pathway and career cluster. They offer clear data on career information like employment and wages, education and training, and projected job openings. For example, did you know that participation in CTE programs translates to lower unemployment rates and higher benefit rates? The National Center for Education Statistics is another reliable source for CTE data

So which careers should we be tracking? Check out the top five career clusters with the fastest growth rate between 2023 – 2030 and the top five emerging career clusters outlined below. According to the BLS, these career clusters are trending due to a variety of technological, societal, and economic factors. 

It’s critical to keep a close eye on these career clusters because rapid growth rate and emerging trends translate into more job opportunities for students. Also, most of these career clusters and their respective career pathways are STEM-related. If you already have a STEM program, curricula, or lab at your school or district, consider how it can work in harmony with your CTE curriculum and how partnerships with industry can support both.

How will AI affect Career & Technical Education?

Artificial Intelligence is taking over conversations, notably within education. For CTE, it’s all about automation, robotics, and how technology is impacting the workforce and our economy. There’s no doubt AI automation will have an affect on CTE and its programs, but it does not have to be a hand-wringing topic. To get ahead of this, educators and students need to understand which career pathways will have less automation risk, and therefore have more high-wage, high-opportunity jobs. 

First, how is automation risk measured? It starts with the skills and training that career clusters and their career pathways require. Transferable skills, for example, are challenging to automate, as well as occupations that require more training or a higher level of education. Therefore, careers that have more of these types of requirements will be less at risk from AI automation. 

How should CTE programs adapt? 

There are a few steps educators can take to make sure their CTE programs are ready to handle AI and its affects. For one, the programs of study should integrate academic and transferable skills alongside technical skills to give students a comprehensive foundation of knowledge that can be applied across careers. CTE programs should also include work-based learning that provide hands-on experience, and work with the local community to establish apprenticeships that help prepare students for tomorrow’s jobs. Lastly, keep a pulse on which career pathways are trending (as noted above), which skills these careers will require, and how technology like AI will affect them.

How is CTE funded?

Career and Technical Education (CTE) programs, especially those at the high school level, are typically funded through federal, state, and local sources. Even ESSER funds can be used to support CTE programsHere are some of the common funding sources for CTE programs:

Carl D. Perkins Career and Technical Education Act

Originally signed in 1984, the Perkins Act was reauthorized in 2018 by Congress as The Strengthening Career and Technical Education for the 21st Century Act. The Perkins Act provides $1.5 billion to support career and technical education programs, improve the quality and access of CTE, and align CTE programs with regional economic development. This act requires states to create a sequence of coursework for their CTE program, otherwise known as Programs of Study. You can learn more here.

State Funding

State governments also allocate funding for CTE programs. The amount and distribution of these funds vary from state to state. State funding is typically used to supplement federal funding and support the development, implementation, and enhancement of CTE programs at the local level. Advance CTE tracks information on CTE programs per state, including funding, and shares that information on their website.

Local Education Agency (LEA) Funding

LEAs play an important role in funding CTE programs. They allocate resources from their education budgets to support CTE courses, facilities, instructors, and program management. The specific funding levels and mechanisms vary depending on the local district's priorities and financial capacity.

Local Industry Partnerships

CTE programs often form partnerships with local businesses, industries, and community organizations to provide funding, equipment donations, or in-kind support. The funding from industry partners can also help align the curriculum with local workforce needs and support student internships or apprenticeships.

Grants and Foundations

Competitive grants or donations from foundations, nonprofits, or philanthropic organizations can also be used to fund CTE programs. For example, they can be used for program expansion, innovation, or targeted initiatives to address specific educational or workforce development goals.

An important point to note is that funding should be a reflection of the local educational priorities and policies, as well as the workforce. If you’re looking to fund a CTE program, start locally! 

Let's Tackle CTE Together

Learn How Discovery Education Can Help