The Hamblen County Career and Technical Education, or CTE, works primarily with students in grades 6-12 as they map out their post-secondary and career goals.

“The goal of CTE in Hamblen County is to equip all students with the tools they will need to make informed and intentional decisions about their plans after high school,” said CTE supervisor Chuck Carter.

What is referred to today as Career and Technical Education would have beeen known as vocational or trade schools in the past.

“Shop” classes such as agriculture, auto mechanics, business, masonry, plumbing and other construction type trades made up the bulk of these offerings from the early days of classes.

At one point in education, the mindset became a choice of either “college or career” where students were guided to choose between pursuing a four- year traditional university path or deciding on a career pathway that flowed through vocational type classes.

Students could potentially choose a dual pathway, but overall students were encouraged to make a choice between what was seen as two diverse paths to future careers. The “Race to the Top” era inadvertently spurred the “college for all” push that created a dramatic move away from skilled careers that required rigorous academics plus technical training specific to each career field.

All of this has resulted in an upside- down ratio of high demand technically skilled jobs with a low number of highly trained future employees entering the workforce.

That is why CTE was developed.

Across the country and, specifically in Tennessee, government, industry and educational leaders have committed to turn that ratio around by supporting workforce development initiatives such as the Labor and Education Alignment Program, or LEAP, under Gov. Bill Haslam’s tenure, and the most recent example of this type investment, Gov. Bill Lee’s GIVE program.

The Governor’s Investment in Vocational Education program offers a total of $25 million for up to $1 million in competitive grants geared directly towards funding CTE programs, dual enrollment for technical degrees, and a heavy investment into internships and apprenticeships. Hamblen County is situated in a prime position to capitalize on Gov. Lee’s current initiative, school officials said.

Hamblen County Schools offers courses in 13 of the 16 state recognized career clusters.

The list of clusters includes advanced manufacturing, health/medical professions, and informational technology or IT which are the top three highest demand fields in our state and across the country.

Beyond that, Hamblen also offers programs such as teaching as a profession, engineering, criminal justice, business, marketing, agriculture, audio-visual production, auto mechanics, accounting and dietetics & nutrition.

The goal in Hamblen County is to ensure that all students have opportunities to move through a trajectory that allows them to raise their awareness about career options in elementary school, explore those career options in middle school, and then get completely immersed in their personalized career choice through Hamblen’s CTE programs of study, earning in-demand industry certifications, and participating in real-life work experiences in their Work-Based Learning internship program.

Dr. Jeff Perry, superintendent of Hamblen County Schools, created a Pathways to Success flowchart which provided a visual roadmap for students as they enter high school and begin the process of setting academic and career goals, yet for students to make fully engaged decisions about their own personal plans, the process has to start much earlier than 9th grade.

Hamblen County has participated in a county-wide “career day” for over five years during which elementary students dress up as someone in their future career. Hamblen has added an online tool for fourth and fifth graders,

Virtual Job Shadow Jr. allows students to learn more about career clusters and the plethora of options that are available to them. Students in sixth through twelfth create an account with Major Clarity a career advisement tool that allows students to explore career fields that are in line with their assessed interests and aptitudes.

The end product of the student’s time on Major Clarity will result in students creating a six -year academic career before registering for high school.

During the 2019-2020 school year 8th grade students from the four Hamblen middle schools will have more knowledge of options available to them than ever before as they prepare for high school registration.

This fall, all 8th graders will tour both high schools’ CTE departments and see all programs of study that are offered. Then in January, 8th graders will be invited to the second annual Future Ready Expo at the Walters State Community College Smoky Mountain Expo Center.

Close to 100 area businesses, industries, and companies will present students with hands-on interactive examples of what people in their career fields do each day.

Four career sectors are toured by students including advanced manufacturing, health and medical professions, trade & industry and business and IT.

The emphasis at the Future Ready Expo is related to one of Hamblen’s lead CTE instructors, Amy Whaley, who coined the twitter hashtag #seeitbeit in reference to her statewide initiative that for students to pursue a career they first have to be able to see what that career looks like.

Various other career exploration opportunities take place in middle and high school including tours of industries and businesses and inviting guest speakers from the professional world into our middle school CTE classrooms.

Equipped with such a wide spectrum of career exploration opportunities the hope is that students will have a laser focused secondary experience that will guide them to make better informed post-secondary plans and goals, and in case those goals change as students explore they will have the tools to make informed decisions about their new plans.

So, where does CTE and the whole pathways approach to education fit into the trajectory of educational philosophies and initiatives?

That can best be seen via an example of a cadre of current high school students that recently completed their summer internship at Tuff Torq here in Morristown.

Carter said a group of three interns’ varying goals and plans demonstrate exactly what CTE offers to all students.

“All three are students inside our engineering and advanced manufacturing programs of study, and each has a slightly different plan for what’s next after high school graduation,” he said. “One of the students plans on attending Tennessee Tech University and will be pursuing a degree in Engineering. The second student will start his post-secondary journey at our local Tennessee College of Applied Technology or TCAT with a degree in industrial maintenance, and our third student is participating in a new program at Walters State Community College where she will graduate from WSCC with an AAS degree in Electrical Engineering before she walks across the stage for her high school graduation. As you can see ALL students need and deserve to have a quality high school experience that leads them to a tailored post-secondary pathway to career success for the individual. We need to change our conversations from “not everyone needs to go to college” to EVERYONE needs a post-secondary plan.”

Students in CTE programs of study also have the opportunity to earn valuable in demand industry certifications while still in high school. Career specific certifications such as OSHA10, Precision Measurement Instrumentation or PMI, the Microsoft Office Suite MOS certifications in Office, Excel, and Powerpoint, and the Certified Nursing Assistant CNA license for students in our Health Science program are available to students throughout their high school journey.

Several other certifications are recognized by the Department of Education and Hamblen County is adding new certifications each year. In addition, CTE students are given the opportunity to earn dual enrollment credits at either TCAT or WSCC on our high school campuses or at the respective college campus. Students may also take local dual credit exams on our campus which if passed earn students college credit with minimum associated expense.

Embedded into the whole network of technical skills that are taught in CTE classrooms and work areas are work ethic skills that have been deemed “power skills” in the workplace replacing what formerly were known as soft skills.

Power skills are the type of skills that former CTE program manager KC Alvarado mentored students as being vitally important.

Carter said Alvarado would always tell students that technical skills would get them hired, but power skills such as being on time, working on a team and being drug free will keep you hired.

Students are also able to earn a Tennessee Work Ethic Diploma of Distinction during their senior year which provides graduates a red carpet to partnering company’s HR with a guaranteed interview for those obtaining the Work Ethic Diploma.

Career and Technical Education programs of study have something to offer all students regardless of what their individual post-secondary plans may be.

Carter said a story from a recent visit to Mrs. Candace Bible’s 8th grade CTE classroom at West View Middle School shows this.

During a presentation and discussion about options for students to pursue in high school one industrious student inquired about which programs he should take in high school.

He shared that he wanted to learn to weld but he also wants to join one of the military branches after high school.

Carter said his response was to take both Welding and Air Force Jr. ROTC.

Another student added that she was interested in the fine arts.

Carter suggested she take the CTE program for audio/visual media and to get involved with the non-CTE Forensics program.