Research Report Strategies for Workforce Success in Career and Technical Education (CTE)
Results from a Survey of Career and Technical Education Programs
Nathan Sick, Amanda Briggs, Jincy Wilson
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Many students in postsecondary education programs face challenges navigating pathways to good jobs. In particular, students who face barriers to success need accessible pathways to economic mobility, but low income and low tolerance for debt present challenges. These students stand to benefit from strategies at all levels of education (and after they enter the workforce) that support their career goals. This report describes results from a survey of career and technical education (CTE) program administrators, with insights about the strategies colleges can use to support students in getting good jobs—jobs that offer pathways to economic stability and long-term upward mobility. A better understanding of these strategies can help educators design CTE programs that ensure students succeed after graduation.

Key Strategies Postsecondary Programs Use to Help Students Gain Employment

Short-term CTE programs can be the first step in students obtaining good jobs. Good jobs are those that offer pathways to economic stability and long-term upward mobility. However, program administrators and employers need more information about the most effective CTE strategies they can use to help students build successful careers.

This report highlights the findings from a survey of nursing and business CTE program administrators. The survey results were linked to student earnings outcomes from the 2021 College Scorecard. The survey explored strategies for supporting the “new majority” of postsecondary students. This group includes individuals from low-income backgrounds, underrepresented communities, student parents, working adults, returning citizens, and other groups.

Survey Findings on Effective CTE Programs

The survey results focused on strategies that fall into three dimensions: supporting career decisions and providing navigation, building skills for work, and connecting students to employment. Underlying those dimensions is the need for programs to always be student centered and market aligned.

1. Supporting Career Decisions and Providing Navigation
  • Academic counseling was the most common strategy used in nursing and business programs, with approximately 80 percent of programs requiring academic counseling.
  • Program administrators said that early and consistent advising, skill assessments, credit for prior learning, and clear career pathway information supported students’ career decisions.
  • Business programs more commonly awarded students credit for prior learning compared with nursing programs.
  • Nursing programs that used academic counseling, career counseling, or assessments of student skills or interests had completers with higher annual earnings compared with programs that did not use those strategies.
  • Business program respondents identified career counseling and exploration as areas for improvement, suggesting the need for dedicated career counselors or assessments to ensure students pursue the correct educational path for their career goals.
2. Building Skills for Work
  • Most nursing programs (94 percent) required work-based learning, mainly clinicals or practicums. Work-based learning is built into nursing education because clinicals are federally required.
  • Business programs required work-based learning less frequently, with approximately 36 percent requiring it. The most common types were internships (31 percent), co-op placements (11 percent), apprenticeships (4 percent), and clinicals (4 percent).
  • Simulated on-the-job training was used by most nursing programs, possibly through required clinicals, although some respondents said that classroom simulations were important. About three out of four business programs incorporated simulated work experiences into their curricula, aiming to develop work-related skills even when work-based learning was not mandatory.
  • Both nursing and business programs frequently integrated career-connected information into their basic skills or foundational classes.
3. Connecting Students to Employment and Aligning with the Market
  • Most nursing and business programs engaged in conversations with employers to improve the hiring and retention of students. However, few programs from either field had interview or hiring commitments in place with employers, and some respondents stated that they wished they did.
  • Both nursing and business programs offered career services such as job fairs, mock interviews, and personalized job search assistance.
  • Some programs used competency-based coursework, digital portfolios, and microcredentials to demonstrate or signal student skills to employers.
  • Tracking employment outcomes and collecting data disaggregated by race and ethnicity is important for identifying and addressing disparities in student success, but few nursing (30 percent) or business (36 percent) programs did so.
  • Because of the high demand for workers, many nursing respondents felt they did not require additional information to help completers secure jobs. In contrast, business respondents felt they needed better labor market data and information on student support needs.

Differences between Business and Nursing CTE Programs

Business and nursing CTE programs differed in their approaches to workforce alignment and emphasis on career decision support and employer engagement.

  • Business programs used strategies to support career decisions more frequently than nursing programs. However, specialized counselors or advisors were uncommon in both program types, and early counseling or advising was limited compared with counseling offered later in the program.
  • Demand and earnings sometimes varied with career support. Nursing programs that required counseling had completers with higher earnings, whereas no similar trend was observed in business programs. High demand for nursing workers leads to relatively easy job placement for most completers, but prior evidence suggests that efforts to improve job retention would help completers succeed.
  • Business programs awarded students credit for prior learning more frequently than nursing programs. This may be because nursing is subject to more regulations and licensure requirements than business.
  • Business programs identified employer engagement as a major weakness, saying they lack required work-based learning and other career exposure opportunities. Nursing programs had few work-based learning options beyond required clinicals, although prior research suggests that health care students and employers might benefit from such opportunities.
  • Business programs more frequently used digital portfolios and microcredentials. These tools for signaling skills to employers may be less relevant in nursing programs, for which licensure is commonly relied upon to demonstrate skill sets.

Recommendations for CTE Programs

Recommendations based on these research findings can help CTE programs strengthen their career connections, align with workforce demands, promote equitable outcomes, and provide students with comprehensive support in their transition to employment.

  • Increase employer engagement by business programs to strengthen relationships with local employers and provide students with concrete work-based learning experiences.
  • Collect and analyze disaggregated employment outcomes to promote equitable labor market outcomes and address disparities that exist for students of color and other new majority learners—not just in job placements, but in wages, hours, working conditions, career advancement, and overall well-being.
  • Prioritize academic and career-oriented counseling, dedicating resources to specialized career advisors and providing support at the beginning of programs.
  • Formalize interview or hiring agreements with employers to establish a mutual commitment and ensure program quality and employment opportunities.
  • Focus on improving job retention in nursing programs by engaging students early in their career pathways and providing career or retention specialists.
Research Areas Education Workforce Economic mobility and inequality
Tags Beyond high school: education and training Community colleges Economic well-being Employer engagement Postsecondary education and training Job training Inequities in educational achievement Racial equity in education Higher education
Policy Centers Income and Benefits Policy Center
Research Methods Data collection Data analysis Qualitative data analysis Quantitative data analysis
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