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Career & Technical Education in middle school should be about
career exploration and having students explore their passions.
Through CTE and career exploration, middle school students will...

Career exploration in middle school is crucial for engaging students and helping them prepare for the future.
  1. Incorporate career-related project-based learning in the classroom. Project-based learning is a fundamental CTE instructional approach that can engage middle-grades students in learning about careers. To make projects relevant for middle schoolers, teachers should start with a topic that is personally meaningful to students and grounded in their choices, such as developing a product or process used in a career that interests them. High-quality projects also generate questions for students to investigate, incorporate feedback and revision, result in presentations that build oral communication skills, and pave the way for further exploration.
  2. Design projects and activities to develop employability skills. Projects and other activities should foster employability skills, as students assess the skills and knowledge needed for a project, collaborate with others, and solve any issues that occur. Students also learn proper workplace behavior when classrooms and laboratories mimic the rules and culture of the related work environment. In addition, students can learn to be conscious about career decision-making, another skill with lifelong value, when counselors and educators help them think critically about their interests, abilities, and goals.
The middle grades represent a critical time for students because they are making decisions that may have a lasting impact on their careers and livelihoods. A growing body of research demonstrates that the middle grades represent “a critical window for decision making for occupational pathways, and for introducing youth to career-relevant experiences and opportunities. … Adolescence is a sweet spot where children are still open to identity experimentation, but in ways that are tied to realistic planning and skill development.” ( Simply put, students have not yet settled on an occupational identity or what they believe they are capable of doing or being but are beginning to consider key decisions about their high school course-taking and post-high school plans, making the middle grades an ideal time to invest in CTE and career development activities and experiences.
The lack of career pathway exploration, planning, and work-based learning has a negative impact on student outcomes and welfare. Because so little time is devoted to career exploration, many students have only very limited awareness of their career opportunities, including those that provide faster and less expensive pathways to the middle class than four-year college.
Career exploration should not be put off until students graduate from high school or even college, as is too often the case today. Rather, students and their parents/guardians should be exposed to career exploration and development beginning in early middle school. As a result, as these students grow up, they should be substantially better prepared to develop and pursue viable personal career plans.
Providing high-quality career exploration needs to be a community-wide responsibility. This community should grow to include every teacher, school administrator, business and industry representatives, parents and guardians; and critically, the young people who are the intended beneficiaries of this effort. Ultimately, we all have a huge stake in the futures of today’s students, and so we must all contribute to the solution (Career Readiness for All by Coalition For Career Development).



How Do Career & Technical Education (CTE) Programs Work?

Three out of four parents say middle and high school is the best time for students to

start exploring career paths, according to the Edge Research and K12 survey results.

This early approach lets students discover their likes and dislikes with time to adjust their path if needed.

CTE Programs include many benefits. They give students the opportunity to:

  • Build career and technical skills that apply directly to the workforce

  • Strengthen soft skills such as communication and critical thinking

  • Be exposed to different types of careers

  • Choose from exciting and relevant focus areas such as health care or business

  • Prepare to take industry-recognized certification exams or enter college programs

CTE means organized educational activities that:

  1. Offer a sequence of courses that:

    a. Provides individuals with coherent and rigorous content aligned with challenging academic standards and relevant technical knowledge and skills needed to prepare for further education and careers in current or emerging occupations or professions

    b. Provides technical skill proficiency, an industry-recognized credential, a certificate, or college credit

  2. Include competency-based applied learning that contributes to the academic knowledge, higher-order reasoning and problem-solving skills, work attitudes, general employable skills, technical skills, and occupation-specific skills, and knowledge of all aspects of an industry, including entrepreneurship of an individual.

  3. A program of study that integrates core academic knowledge with technical and occupational knowledge to provide students with a pathway to postsecondary education and careers.


Perkins V allows for federal career and technical education (CTE) funds to provide career exploration and development activities in grades 5-8.  Career exploration is learning about various occupations that fit with your unique career preferences; the skills, interests and values you want satisfied by your career. A good way to start career exploration is for students to take an on-line career interest assessment which generates a profile based on answers to questions regarding individual preferences. Students are then able to look at the interests satisfied by careers and compare them to their own interests. The O*Net Interest Profiler is a free online career interest survey


US Bureau of Labor Statistics

K-12 Specific Resources

Employment Projections​

Occupations Data tool

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Choose CTE...It's Cool!
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