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Glossary: Career Prep

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The evolution of career and technical education has also meant the emergence of a new vocabulary. Here are a few key terms to know:

Apprenticeships” are paid work-experience programs that typically combine classroom instruction and on-the-job training at an employer partner. Apprenticeships vary in length but typically run from six months to two years. “Registered apprenticeships” meet the US Department of Labor’s standards for apprenticeship programs.

Career pathways” is the broad term for strategies designed to get students through education and into employment. Policymakers and researchers sometimes shorten this to “pathways.”

Career readiness” refers to the set of skills and behaviors typically expected in the workplace, such as communications skills, the ability to work in teams, solve problems and manage conflict (“soft skills”). It also refers to workers’ ability to navigate their advancement, such as by seeking out training opportunities and building relationships with supervisors and mentors.

CTE” means “career and technical education” and is the term of choice to describe modern programs that combine academic coursework with career-oriented training and/or on-the-job experience. Do not use the term “vocational education” unless you are referring to older programs that focused on job training only.

Credentials” refers to the universe of academic or professional qualifications students and workers can earn through their coursework or through the demonstration of skills. This includes high school diplomas and college degrees, as well as “certificates” granted for completing discrete courses. Other credentials include “certifications,” typically earned by passing a test showing proficiency in a set of skills (e.g. welding) and “occupational licenses,” which may or may not require someone to be certified as well. The nonprofit Credential Engine estimates there are more than 960,000 separate credentials available in the United States.

Dual enrollment” or “concurrent enrollment” is an approach to accelerated study in which high school students earn credit for coursework at a partnering college or community college. About 30 percent of dual enrollment is CTE-focused.

Stackable credentials” are credentials students can earn in sequence as they advance in skills and education on a particular career pathway. For instance, a student might earn a certificate in IT later applicable to an associate’s degree or higher. One benefit of this approach is the ability for students to make bite-sized gains in education and skills development while they work.

Work-based learning” refers to real-life workplace settings where students can learn what it means to hold down a job. Examples include apprenticeships, internships, job shadowing, paid community service or summer jobs programs. Most educators consider work-based learning to be far superior to classroom instruction as a way to teach non-academic job skills.