Career Technical Education raising student career outlooks


Students enrolled in Ishpeming High School’s Geometry in Construction program are shown holding up a large ceiling joist while posing for this picture. The program requires students to apply classroom lessons to on-the-job construction projects. Here they’re shown renovating on old house near the school.


By Joseph Zyble
Area business and trades professionals are volunteering and collaborating to greatly improve career opportunities for high school students who may not have the access to or interest in pursuing a traditional college degree to begin a career. This group, called the CTE Committee, has established partnerships with businesses, industries and Northern Michigan University to open doors for young people who may otherwise get left behind.
CTE stands for career and technical education. It promotes and offers specialized training in fields such as health care, construction, drafting and design, automotive, welding, culinary arts, hospitality services, business management, the heating, air conditioning and refrigeration industry, and more. Training options in manufacturing and cyber security will be added in fall 2019.
The CTE Committee was the brainchild of Stu Bradley, a retired U.S. Air Force colonel and financial adviser in Marquette who was inspired after witnessing how a high school trades program made all the difference for his grandson. The young man struggled to find direction in high school and dropped out for a while, but later enrolled in a skilled trades program.
“My grandson was an unengaged high school student who did not find his place in the world until he enrolled in the high school culinary arts program at NMU,” Bradley said. “That hands-on training changed his life and he is now a full-time chef at a restaurant in White Plains, NY.
“That experience helped me to understand the importance of CTE programs, their power to show students how academics apply in the real world, and how important it is for every student to have a career plan coming out of high school.”
Unfortunately, the Marquette-Alger Educational Service Agency, which serves the two-county district, is the only one in the U.P. without a millage to support career and technical education. And five years ago, just prior to the formation of the CTE Committee, enrollments in career and technical education courses, a.k.a. skilled trades courses, were in a downward spiral across the entire state.
In late 2013, Bradley, along with Brian Sarvello, Marquette-Alger RESA CTE director, and Tony Retaskie, executive director of the Upper Peninsula Construction Council, assembled a group of people who shared their interest in improving opportunities for young people and strengthening the regional economy by providing the much-needed skilled talent that employers sought. This CTE Committee, which began with just a few people, grew to nearly 50 members representing 40 different educational, government and workforce-developmental agencies, organizations and key employers throughout the two-county region.
Today, the committee’s accomplishments have been remarkable. Despite lacking fiscal support from a millage, school students in the Marquette-Alger district have some of the most diverse career and technical education offerings in the U.P. and some of the top such programs in the state. Enrollments in CTE programs have increased from 37 percent five years ago to over 50 percent this year.
Here are some of the major CTE accomplishments the committee helped to implement:
• Creation of the Marquette Alger Technical Middle College. This public and private cooperative effort allows high school students to receive on-the-job skilled trades training while earning college credits toward certifications and/or associate degrees. Upon successful completion of the program, students gain valuable training and experience, and earn 44 college credits at no cost to their families. Gov. Rick Snyder recognized the program in his 2015 State of the State Address and encouraged the rest of the state to follow the CTE Committee’s lead in creating early/middle college programs. They have; CTE committees and early/middle college programs have spread now so that every U.P. student has the opportunity to participate in them. Similar growth of these programs is occurring in the Lower Peninsula.
• Introduction of the Geometry In Construction program. This nationally recognized program improves student math scores by introducing real-world applications in the lessons, and in the process introduces students to skilled trade opportunities. For example, students take on construction projects that require the math lessons to complete. By securing sponsorships of $29,000, the committee was able to bring the creators of Geometry in Construction (GIC) to the U.P. to train local educators, at no cost to their districts, on how to implement the program in their schools. As anticipated, incorporating the program into the curriculum has helped boost academic scores.
• Publication and distribution of CTE Magazine. This annual, informative publication serves as a career exploration resource that highlights professional trades opportunities for young people in the U.P. In partnership with Northern Michigan University, the magazine begins by outlining the high school CTE opportunities available to students, how they can progress through postsecondary CTE programs, and/or begin apprenticeships or internships on the way to bright careers. The committee raises over $17,000 annually to pay for the publication, promotion and dissemination of the publication, which is distributed during CTE month, February. In addition to inserting CTE Magazine in 9,000 subscription copies of the area’s regional daily newspaper, The Mining Journal, the committee also hand delivers copies to every 10th-grade student in the region.
• Recruitment of young talent to the skilled/professional trades. Using multiple strategies, the CTE Committee has found effective methods to highlight and promote the skilled and professional trade opportunities among area high school students. As a result, CTE programs in Marquette and Alger counties have experienced five consecutive years of growth. This is in spite of a significant drop in the size of the high school population in the same time frame. The committee spurred growth in CTE enrollments through numerous special events for hands-on introductions to professional trades and a strong social media presence that reaches throughout the U.P. and beyond.
Over the past five years the CTE Committee has secured approximately three-quarters of a million dollars to directly fund CTE programs. As the committee reaches its goals it creates new ones, but the ultimate goal remains:
“One of the main goals of our committee is helping high school students make the best possible career decisions,” said Bradley. “We believe that students who leave high school without a realistic career direction will have a high probability of encountering setbacks, high student loans and limited job opportunities.”
The most powerful endorsement for CTE programs may just come the students who are enrolled in them.
Ben Noble, a senior at Marquette Senior High School who is interning with the Marquette City Fire Department, said the experience has given him a glimpse of his future and what it’s like to be an adult who others rely on.
“Instead of sitting in a school, I get to help people in need for two hours each day and it is very rewarding,” he said.
Mollie Lancour, a Superior Central High School student who is interning at Munising Memorial Hospital, describes the experience as one of the best decisions she has made in her educational career.
“It has given me an inside view of the medical field, a preview of what my future plans are going to be … It has completely assured me that I am meant to be a part of the medical field and help people live their best life possible,” Lancour said.
For more information about CTE programs and opportunities visit the “Career Technical Education – Marquette & Alger Counties” page on Facebook.

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