Career and technical education programs pave multiple pathways to success for our students. More than that, these programs give them the chance to personalize their education based on their interests and unique learning needs. Career and technical education courses teach students on-the-job skills that prepare them for current, in-demand or even emerging job fields, all while they’re still in school. This puts our students at a greater advantage as they graduate and enter the workforce. Career and technical education courses lay the groundwork for young Mainers to enter a variety of job fields, leading them to good-paying, fulfilling careers.

Sean Glass, a rising Brunswick High School freshman, clears fogged headlight covers on a vehicle during a career and technical education summer camp at Region 10 Technical High School in Brunswick in July 2021. A study has found that high school students who earn at least two career and technical credits within the same field of study are more likely to find work after graduating than students who earned just one credit or did not take part in CTE courses. Derek Davis/Staff Photographer, File

In Maine and across the country, we’re facing a “skills gap” in our workforce. This gap is the difference between the amount of jobs that require a certain level of education or specialized training, and the amount of people in our workforce who possess those qualifications. Currently, the unfortunate reality is that the number of these jobs far outweighs the number of workers with the right qualifications for them. I know that when I was growing up, this wasn’t the case at all. In fact, jobs such as machinists or nurses were highly sought after and were the backbone of our economy. A critical step in addressing this challenge is to make sure our students are prepared to join the economy we’ve built. Bolstering our career and technical education programs in Maine schools, providing local training for local jobs, is one of the best ways to do that.

Not only do career and technical education classes prepare our students for good-paying jobs, they also increase our students’ overall employability and likelihood of graduating. High school students who earned two or more credits within the same area of study are more likely to find employment after graduating, compared to students who earned only one credit or did not participate in career and technical education courses. The same study found that of the students who earned more than two credits within the same area of study, 94% graduated from high school on time.

I am proud to say that during the 130th Legislature, we took action to bring focus back to these incredible programs here in Maine. We invested in Maine’s career and technical education programs to ensure they can have the materials and up-to-date equipment necessary to give students quality training so they can hit the ground running when they enter the workforce. We also invested in Jobs for Maine Graduates, a partnership that has long helped middle and high school students. Thanks to a new law sponsored by my friend Sen. Eloise Vitelli, there are fewer roadblocks for students who are applying for work but can’t access their certificates or diploma because of an outstanding debt to the institution they received it from. This law creates an avenue for schools and students to come to an agreement in these types of situations.

It brings me joy to look back at the work we have done to invest in Maine students to make sure they have the skills necessary to join our workforce. One of my biggest goals has always been to make Maine a place where all of us can live, work and put down roots. It couldn’t be more important to recognize that there isn’t any one pathway to success, so it’s vital that we invest in a variety of pathways for young Mainers. There is certainly more work to be done, and I am looking forward to continue being the advocate that I always have been for Maine students and teachers.

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