Reformer ToolboxLogin

CancelLost your password?

#AskExcelinEd: Aligning Career and Technical Education Programs with Industry Needs

• Quentin Suffren

How can your state align Career and Technical Education programs with industry needs?

Last week, ExcelinEd released its fifth and final career and technical education (CTE) playbook, Aligning State Career and Technical Education Programs with Industry Needs and Priorities. In this post, ExcelinEd’s Innovation Policy Managing Director Quentin Suffren shares highlights from the new playbook. Enjoy!

Today, we’re examining the final steps in ExcelinEd’s Career and Technical Education Playbook Series to strengthen state CTE programs: developing programs of study that align to postsecondary and in-demand career opportunities. To achieve this alignment, states can consider taking the following actions:

  • Defining and Developing High-Quality CTE Programs of Study
  • Aligning CTE Programs to Postsecondary and In-Demand Career Opportunities
  • Implementing Fully Aligned, High-Quality Programs of Study

Defining and Developing High-Quality CTE Programs of Study

To begin, policymakers must define what high-quality CTE programs look like and align programs with those priorities. Policymakers can consult the following sources to define elements of high-quality, aligned CTE programs that fit their state context:

After establishing a clear definition for programs of study, policymakers can establish a theory of action that articulates the priorities and means for verifying program quality. This living document can guide policymakers through the overall alignment process.

View a Sample Theory of Action

Aligning CTE Programs to Postsecondary and In-Demand Career Opportunities

Next, policymakers can begin the process of aligning programs to postsecondary and workforce opportunities. This effort cannot be accomplished inside a single agency. Rather, aligning programs requires the engagement of multiple public and private sector stakeholders. There are two approaches to achieve this.

  • Basic Approach: A basic, and common, approach to achieving a high-quality CTE program includes an upward path of seamless movement from K-12 education to the workforce.
  • Comprehensive Approach: The comprehensive approach builds on the basic version, but it emphasizes a reciprocating flow of engagement and communications among all key stakeholders, including employers.

Regardless of the approach, the development of aligned, high-quality state CTE programs of study is a multi-phase, multi-step commitment on the part of policymakers. The first phase involves identifying key stakeholders, completing three major activities to improve program quality and developing essential planning documents.

View Sample Planning Documents


Implementing Fully Aligned, High-Quality Programs of Study

Implementation of the updated or new programs of study will be the work of local districts and schools, and this work is intensely regional and local in nature. While no playbook can foresee all the implementation challenges that lie ahead—or consider all local or regional contexts—there are some key steps that states should take to support local implementation and address ongoing issues that will arise:

  • Developing a communications plan
  • Providing funding to support local implementation
  • Upskilling and training educators
  • Improving data systems
  • Remaining agile through an annual review process
Learn More About These Steps

CTE Playbook Series 

ExcelinEd’s CTE playbook series explores strategies and processes states can use to strengthen CTE program quality and provide students with pathways to postsecondary credentialing and middle- and higher wage career opportunities. Learn more at

About the author

Quentin Suffren

As Innovation Policy Managing Director, Quentin oversees Personalized Learning, College and Career Pathways and Course Access policies at ExcelinEd. Previously, Quentin served as executive director of the college, career, and military preparation at the Texas Education Agency. He also held leadership positions with Amplify Education, an education consulting and technology firm, TNTP, and The Learning Institute. Quentin began his career as a high school English teacher. He earned his bachelor’s and master’s degrees at the University of Memphis.