Imagine you spent much of high school in a career and technical education (CTE) program, mastering the skills you’ll need for the career you plan to pursue after graduation. You get your CTE certificate when you graduate, confident that it’s your ticket to employment in your chosen field. But despite all the work you put in, you can’t get the job you want because your credential isn’t the right one. And to add insult to injury, the right credential—the one that employers are looking for—was there for the taking all along. Had you only realized its importance, you could have earned it in high school along with your CTE certificate.
In many cases, the “right” credential to have coming out of high school is an industry-recognized credential (IRC). You earn it by passing an exam that is designed not by your school, but by a professional trade organization. There’s nothing wrong with earning a CTE certificate from your school; it can reflect a broad competence in the skills required for a given profession. But an IRC indicates mastery of knowledge specifically chosen by employers who have jobs to fill. It only makes sense that schools should encourage students to earn the credential that their potential employers want them to have.
The graphic at the top of this post shows just a few of the career options that can open up for students who earn an IRC. Others include (but aren’t limited to) education, culinary arts, business, graphic design, and hospitality. Fewer than 3 percent of Missouri high school students earned an IRC in 2017. Moreover, out of 27,437 students who completed three or more CTE classes during the 2016–2017 school year, only 8,565 earned IRCs. Employers are bending over backwards to tell us what students need to learn in order to get hired; shouldn’t we listen to them?
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