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Preparing students for the future of making: Career Technology Education

When I think of the state of education in 2015 and particularly the current state of Career Technical Education I immediately think of this quote from a 2012 U.S. Department of Labor report.  

“65% of today’s 2nd graders will work in jobs that don’t exist today.”

Tom Friedman, author of The World is Flat and That Used to be Us, and Tony Wagoner, author of Creating Innovators and The Global Achievement Gap, offer undeniable evidence that the world of work is changing faster than we could ever have imagined. For the most part, our educational system is out of synch with that reality, relying on outdated modes of teaching and learning that will not provide students with the experiences that are necessary to prepare them for future careers.

Starting in the early part of the 20th century, vocational education, the forerunner of today’s Career Technical Education (CTE), emerged as a track within the broader educational system that was dominated by wood and automotive shop programs where counselors and site administrators funneled those students who were not considered academically smart or college material.  Fast forward to today and we certainly see advances in terms of the subject areas covered under CTE.  For example, in California, there are 15 Industry sectors under the umbrella of CTE that encompass career areas ranging from child development to engineering, healthcare and hospitality. 

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California Career Clusters

The introduction of the new Common Core State Standards has promoted a transition away from tracking students into programs that focus on either “College OR Careers” to the idea that all students should be prepared for “College AND Careers”. This shift in thinking is a huge step forward. However, realizing this new vision requires a focused effort on resolving several key challenges. Chief among those challenges is the fact that the vast majority of educators have little or no idea about careers beyond their particular subject matter discipline.  Career Technical Education teachers, on the other hand, have, by nature of the courses they teach and their own personal experiences in industry, a much deeper understanding of what is needed to prepare all students for career success.  

The value of CTE in helping students achieve success in a rapidly changing world becomes apparent if we take a close look at the radical advancements that are occurring in the world of design and manufacturing. In the past decade, we have witnessed a radical shift in terms of the ways that product development rapidly moves from concept to manufactured goods.  The agility of technologies allows for the economically viable creation of customized affordable products. Students in CTE gain experience with technologies ranging from sophisticated software such as Autodesk Fusion 360 and 3D printing technologies, CNC making, and robotic systems that expedite prototyping, custom production, inspection and assembly.  These technologies not only impact the speed and quality of the manufactured goods but radically change the ways in which people from many disciplines collaborate in real time.

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Plasma Cutter
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CTE Lab

The world of our customers has changed greatly. They are working in distributed teams with global and complex supply chains. When legacy 3D mechanical design tools were developed, competitiveness centered on quality. Today, high quality products are table stakes and companies who thrive are focused on innovation and shortening time to market. Just as tools like GitHub have made managing software projects much easier, we're doing the same for design and engineering projects. We're building a tool where everyone can work together and where data management and collaboration are foundational, not an afterthought - Carl Bass, Autodesk CEO & Maker

An intriguing example of how CTE programs can advance an entire school’s commitment to preparing all students for college and careers can be seen at Foothill High School in Tustin, California.  Walking into Jeff Farr’s Design and manufacturing class, I was captivated by the contrast between the state of the art CNC equipment (milling and plasma cutting) and the rusted hull of the 1929 Ford Roadster that had recently been donated to the school.

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Donated 1929 Roadster

Working in teams, students like Sean O’Bannon were assigned the task of utilizing Autodesk software to design components as part of a complete restoration.  Sean engaged in a problem solving process that began with ideation for a headlight mount.  Beginning with concept sketches and foam core mockups, Sean used Autodesk Inventor to make 3D models, creating 3D printed prototypes that were subsequently refined to produce plasma cut metal parts that were assembled and mounted on the vehicle. Like the other teams who were involved in resurrecting this rusted hull that was previously buried out in the Mojave Desert, Sean and his teammates developed a presentation on their part of the work that was presented to peers and a panel of industry pros.

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Autodesk Inventor model of headlight bracket

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Assembly drawing of headlight bracket

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Roadster bracket

A review of the literature on college and career readiness reveals that Jeff Farr’s class is on the right track.  Through their engagement in a real world project, Sean and his teammates were developing competencies in creativity, collaboration, critical thinking and communications.  These 4 c’s represent the four essential competencies promoted by the Partnership for 21st Century Learning, one of the nation’s leading organizations uniting business, education, and government leaders to advance meaningful teaching and learning for all students.

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Completed roadster

Realizing the vision of College AND Career readiness and success for all students hinges on our commitment to integrating a wide range of real world learning experiences into schools in order to offer students, like those in Jeff Farr’s class, opportunities for applying knowledge to address authentic problems and challenges. Given the fact that many teachers have limited knowledge of careers outside of education, it is imperative that we build stronger partnerships with the world of industry where future careers will emerge.  

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Next generation roadster built in Jeff Farr's class.

I was pleased when Autodesk asked me to write this blog posting because they have emerged as a world leader in bridging the world of careers with the world of education.  I encourage educators and administrators to take a close look at the Autodesk Design Academy to discover a wide range of real-world industry based projects and free Autodesk software. The extensive course materials and technical “how-to” videos support teachers in classroom integration.  By offering all educators and students free access to their extensive selection of professional level design software, Autodesk is helping to define how industry and education can collaborate to realize the vision of College and Career readiness for all students.

Model your own roadster in Autodesk Inventor