Change is constant in our global economy. New occupations are emerging and advances in technology are rendering some jobs obsolete. Employers report that they expect to hire more workers with a post-secondary education and fewer workers with only a high school diploma. The U.S. Department of Labor indicates that approximately 80 percent of the fastest-growing jobs in today’s economy require some form of post-secondary education or training.

Since its creation in 1917, vocational education has evolved to help our country remain competitive and to meet the constantly changing needs of workers and employers.

To be employable in today’s economy, students need a solid foundation of reading, writing and arithmetic; strong technical skills; and problem-solving and creative thinking skills. To meet these new demands, vocational education must continue to change.

Federal reforms have eliminated the dual tracks in public schools for college-bound and non-college bound students. As a result, vocational education classes should prepare students for all types and levels of education, including an industry-recognized credential, a certificate, an associate degree, a baccalaureate degree, and an advanced degree. Congress made such extensive changes to the program’s purpose they changed the name from vocational education to “career and technology education.”

Today’s career and technology classes include architecture, engineering, bio-technology, nursing, DNA forensics, landscaping, computer software engineering and robotics. The broad array of courses helps students identify their career interests and provides them course credit toward a certificate or degree.

Texas is also making positive changes to career and technology education. The 80th Texas Legislature passed a bill by Rep. Susan King to update and increase the rigor of the career and technology curriculum. HB 3485 also establishes a panel of experts to review course credit transferability from high school to postsecondary institutions.

These changes are extremely important since rigorous and relevant high school coursework that leads to a job can often be a motivating factor for students to finish high school and continue their education. The ease in which course credits transfer to a community college can make the transition to postsecondary education seamless. It can also save students valuable time toward earning their certificate or degree, not to mention saving taxpayers money by reducing the number of hours needed to complete a certificate or degree at public two- and four-year institutions.

The federal and state changes move in the right direction because they help students be more competitive and better prepared for their future. But to fully prepare students for the challenges in college and the workplace, more changes are needed.

The quality of career and technology courses must improve by incorporating current business practices. Schools need to encourage career and technology teachers to update their knowledge on a regular basis through professional development opportunities. Professional development can help teachers stay abreast of technological changes in the workplace so they can keep their curriculum, projects, and real-world examples current.

Texas public schools must also attract the best and brightest minds of the private sector into the classroom. These professionals could share their knowledge by being a guest lecturer, teaching part-time, or mentoring students who aspire to work in that particular field. The impending retirement of millions of baby boomers opens a large pool of potential teachers with technical skills.

Texas must make sure that teacher certification requirements are not so burdensome and time-consuming that they prevent knowledgeable workers and retirees from teaching. Individuals wanting to make a career change are often discouraged by the great deal of time and money it takes to become certified.

Well-designed and well-taught career and technology education courses can improve students’ academic and technical skills, help keep students in school, promote post-secondary education, and help students get and keep a job. Texas must continue to improve the quality and relevance of career and technology classes. Students’ careers depend on it.