Changing How People Think About Career and Technical Education

Alabama Rep. Mac Buttram thinks it’s about time people start thinking about career and technical education in a different way.

Buttram recently was appointed to Gov. Robert Bentley’s new Alabama Workforce Council. The council, comprised primarily of state business leaders, is designed to help K-12 and higher education institutions in the state better meet the needs of businesses and industries. He was one of the featured speakers at CSG’s Policy Academy on Workforce Development, held Aug. 9 at the CSG National and CSG West Annual Conference in Alaska.

Buttram said he remembers a young man who lived near Huntsville, one of America’s aerospace centers, who wanted to become an aviation mechanic. The man was taking classes at the career technical center while in high school and working part-time at an aeronautics company, which was poised to employ him after graduation.

“His mother was horrified,” Buttram said. “She wanted him to go to college. … When he graduates, he’ll get a certificate, but that company will pay for him to get a four-year degree should he choose to do so. That company will also pay for him to get a master’s degree.”

Buttram said he even once fell into the trap of underestimating students who choose to go to career and technical schools, once seen as the option for those who couldn’t make the grades to get into a university. Buttram was on a board that was interviewing Student of the Year candidates, which included students from a career and technical school.

“I was prepared for some very poorly performing … students,” he said. “What I found were the three young men that came in as candidates were probably the sharpest of all the ones we saw. … These three young men knew more about what they wanted to do, their career goals and how to reach them than anybody I’d ever seen.”

Buttram said Alabama has been making considerable investments in its career and technical education, including a $50 million bond issue for new equipment, a commitment to include $5 million in the budget annually to maintain and update equipment at the schools and a 50 percent tax credit for businesses investing in a scholarship fund to support dual enrollment. The scholarship money, Buttram said, is expected to help about 10,000 students enroll in community college programs while still in high school.

“We look forward to the results it will bring,” he said.

Education, Buttram noted, has changed. When students graduated, the Alabama Department of Education used to point to the students and say, “They’re ready, hire them.” It’s not that like that anymore.

“Today, industry comes to the schools and says here is what we need from both K-12 and post-secondary and higher education,” he said. “Industry says here is what we need, here is what we need you to do so we have the people we need. That is workforce development.”