A Student’s Guide to Career Technical Education (CTE) Programs

A Student’s Guide to Career Technical Education (CTE) Programs

If you’re a middle school or high school student, a college student, a teacher, or involved in education in any way, you’ve likely heard about career technical education. Not only are educators and students seeing the many benefits of CTE programs, but employers see the various advantages of hiring students who have gone through CTE coursework. With technological changes occurring constantly and the job market rapidly growing and evolving, students today are being prepared to take on jobs that don’t even exist yet, which makes real-world skills and practical application of knowledge absolutely vital. Continue reading our comprehensive guide to career technical education to learn all about it, including available programs, the benefits of these programs, and how to make the most of your educational time with hands-on career technical education.

What Is Career Technical Education?

CTE is defined as the practice of teaching career-based skills to students in middle school, high school, and post-secondary schools in order to prepare them for their future. Career technical education is about teaching students specific skills rather than just theory, and it utilizes hands-on experiences and practical application of learned skills. CTE starts with information and knowledge but quickly shifts to training and skill building as students learn foundational proficiency for a variety of careers. Some CTE programs will prepare students to enter the workforce immediately after high school, while others are more suited to continuing education where students may go on to receive a college degree in their chosen field. Several careers that are part of career technical education programs require workers to have experience in their field even for entry-level positions, and individuals can get that experience from CTE programs. Hands-on experience may include apprenticeships, internships, externships, and other work-related programs that provide the necessary training and testing of career-related skills. In addition to teaching career-specific skills and training, Career Technical Education instructs students on common academic subjects but with a focus on real-world application. This helps students see the value in what they’re learning and make connections between school and the real world, keeping them more engaged in their education.

CTE vs. Vocational Education

Vocational education is quite different from career technical education, though some people may group them together. Vocational education is more in line with technical schooling or learning a specific trade or have a specific job, while career technical education is more about preparing students to enter into a specific field. Years ago, vocational education was incredibly popular. High school students took woodshop and auto mechanic classes and they were prepared to enter into those trades, or vocations, immediately upon graduating high school. Vocational education began getting phased out of high schools as the push for more academic-focused programs and textbook-based education. Nowadays, some vocational education programs are seen as less than ideal and students who participate in them are expected to make less money than other students. Career technical education programs, however, are vastly different from vocational programs in that they prepare students for a particular career field rather than a very specific job. They allow for the same training and skill-building, as well as the practical application of learned information, but they are more versatile in their training and are more suited for higher paying jobs and more advanced degrees. Vocational education typically involves earning a certification or completing a short training program, while career technical education involves more long-term coursework that includes real-world skills, applicable training, and hands-on experiences. CTE programs are more versatile in what they teach and the students who complete them are well-prepared to begin a number of jobs within a chosen industry, and they often go on to complete advanced education in their field.

Career Technical Education Programs

CTE programs have 16 different educational tracks that students can participate in. Earlier on in their education, students may take more general CTE courses, such as ones that teach versatile and all-encompassing skills like typing, critical thinking, and more. Let’s take a quick look at each career technical education program that is available to students.

Health Science

This field includes jobs like nursing, patient care technicians, certified medical assistant, phlebotomy technician, and more. This is one of the fastest growing fields and one of the most in-demand industries.


The versatility of business CTE programs makes it hugely popular and ever-growing. Business specialty can also be applied to a number of different careers and industries. Careers may include human resources, data entry, business management, entrepreneurship, and more.


Marketing specialists, sales representatives, data analysts, customer success experts, and more make up the sales specialty of CTE programs. Every business needs sales professionals, so individuals can work in just about any industry.


Just as with other programs, finance is versatile and can be applied to just about any industry, profession, or business. Finance students can become accountants, accounts receivable specialists, accounting controller, and more.

Information Technology (IT)

One of the most lucrative and in-demand fields is Information Technology. Careers in this industry include network specialists, IT experts, site engineers, and more. From working at a local company to working with a bigwig like Google, IT jobs are absolutely everywhere and incredibly important.

Science, Technology, Engineering, & Mathematics (STEM)

An ever-growing field with not enough workers, STEM interest is on the rise amongst students. With plenty of high salaried jobs available, STEM graduates can work with machinery, with computer applications, in engineering technologies, and so much more.


Though a less popular industry than in the past, manufacturing still plays an important role in our economy. Jobs like production specialist, materials acquisition specialist, and materials manager come from a manufacturing background.


Trucking, shipping, distribution, transportation, and more fall under the umbrella of logistics. This field is desperate for detail-oriented individuals to fill roles like logistics planner, distribution manager, and transportation analyst.


Managing hospitality businesses like hotels, motels, tourist attractions, and B&Bs takes a highly skilled individual. He or she may be an assistant hotel director, a guest experience specialist, or a reception manager.


Local governments and public administration are the primary focus of government CTE programs. Students learn about interactions between the public and local governing agencies, as well as how governments maintain order. Popular government careers include project managers, zoning specialists, and administrative assistants.


Emergency services and legal-based occupations that fall under public safety and security are all part of law CTE programs. Criminal justice careers, jobs as a paralegal, and positions in law enforcement are all possible with career technical education in law.


With a focus on sustaining life, food, agriculture, and natural resources CTE programs will prepare students for careers as agriculture inspectors, wildlife administrators, and agronomists.

Human Services (HS)

For those who wish to make a difference in the lives of individuals, human services is a great CTE program. With job possibilities including social workers, rehabilitation experts, and social services assistants, human services is an important and rewarding field to be in.


In the world of architecture and construction, endless job opportunities exist. From being an architect to being a construction inspector to working in construction technology, having a background in construction CTE programs will help students get ahead in this field.


One of the broader CTE programs, education and training can include job opportunities as a teaching aide, a training consultant, a safety specialist, and more.


Arts CTE programs include a variety of artistic focuses, including audio-visual, communication, visual art, and more. Students with this background could become an A/V technician, an audio engineer, a lighting technician, and more.

Benefits of CTE Programs

If career preparation and learning real-world skills aren’t enough to convince you to take part in a CTE program, prepare yourself to be blown away. The benefits of career technical education programs are far-reaching and substantial, and students, teachers, parents, and employers alike agree on how important these programs are. In the US, the national high school graduation rate is about 84%. For students who participate in CTE programs, the graduation rate is 93%. Additionally, for students who earn 2-3 credits of CTE courses in high school, 91% of them enrolled in college. After school, CTE graduates have a higher employment rate and earn more than non-CTE peers, though research has not confirmed the specific disparity. In addition, employers often look to CTE graduates first when hiring new employees, as their experience, training, and strong work ethic make them some of the best employees available. Those who complete career technical education are better communicators, more well-rounded individuals, and more prepared to be a successful employee and positive contribution to a company than those with a traditional education. They also have hands-on training and real experience in the field and are more equipped to be flexible and learn new skills quickly. Another significant benefit of CTE programs is the exposure to different career fields that they give to young students. When high school and middle school students can learn about STEM careers, construction jobs, and hospitality employment opportunities, they’re more likely to keep their minds open toward other possible career fields and industries. They are able to experience, to some extent, a variety of fields and job possibilities, helping them make wiser career decisions both during school and after graduation. The main benefit of career technical education programs is the skills that students learn, both academic skills and job-related, that serve them for the entirety of their lives and allow them to contribute significantly to their communities.


Find out more about San Diego High School Career and Technical Education Programs and get in touch with SDVS to learn more about the right program from you!