State Officials Say Tech, Vocational Training on the Rise

According to a recent study from Meticulous Research, the vocational training market is expected to grow nearly 10 percent to reach $896.01 billion by 2029 as students increasingly look to accelerated technical-training programs, instead of traditional two- and four-year degree paths, to gain employment in an increasingly digitized job market.

Noting these trends, Colorado Commissioner of Education Katy Anthes said the ongoing growth of technical training programs has much to do with shifts in the workforce that have come as a result of the pandemic, as more employers seek candidates with specialized technical skills that can be acquired through shorter certificate programs.

“The cost of higher education is prohibitive for many students, and many are finding that by enrolling in certificate or other shorter-term credentialing programs, they can save money and still have the skills they need for employment in high-wage, high-demand jobs,” she said in an email to Government Technology. “With the growth of work-based learning programming, students are getting exposure to career opportunities earlier in their academic careers, helping them to envision themselves in different career fields and gaining an understanding of what is necessary to attain jobs in these careers.”

Anthes said Colorado and other states are starting to encourage career development initiatives, such as Individual Career and Academic Plan (ICAPs), dual-enrollment programs, career and technical education (CTE) and work-based learning, earlier and in greater depth.

“These early exposure activities have given students a head start that often leads to credentialing and shorter-term vocational training,” she said, adding that it’s becoming more common for students to enter career and technical training programs in secondary school to gain job skills earlier.

“CTE is a vital resource for students in K-12, especially when CTE programming is aligned to the high-growth and living-wage jobs in demand in local communities. These programs provide students with hands-on, real-world learning experiences via work-based learning that ideally culminate in industry-recognized credentials,” she said. “Through career and technical student organizations and industry advisory committees, CTE programs can stay abreast of the latest trends in workforce development and can provide students with authentic industry-sponsored projects to develop the skills they need to be successful in the workforce.”

With the growing demand for vocational training in mind, Anthes said Colorado’s recent passage of HB 21-1330 charges the Colorado Commission on Higher Education with “reimagining the role of postsecondary institutions in a post-pandemic world to build economic resiliency and strengthen the state’s workforce.”

“We realize for Colorado to meet its future workforce demands, we must put more residents on a path to achieving a postsecondary degree or credential. The Colorado Department of Higher Education and the [Colorado Commission on Higher Education] have set an ambitious goal that by 2025, 66 percent of Coloradans attain a postsecondary degree or credential, to address this need,” she said. “A key strategy for meeting Colorado’s workforce needs is ensuring that Colorado’s high school graduates are enrolling and succeeding in career-connected postsecondary education.”

According to its State CTE Director Jennell Ives, Oregon has also placed more focus on workforce development in light of growing demand. She said many students are now looking toward programming that features stackable credentials to gain skills while working toward traditional degrees.

“I think there’s been a convergence of a lot of different factors that have made short-term certificates, which have always been really valuable, even more interesting and useful for students, youth and adults retraining and going into [new] careers,” she said. “We also know that postsecondary enrollment, at least straight from high school, has seen a nationwide decrease, and we’ve definitely seen that decrease in Oregon.”

“I think a lot of students are wondering about postsecondary education, how it helps them, how long it will take to help them, and thinking about how they can enter the workforce more quickly,” she continued. “Short-term certificates are a fast track and shortest path to earning that first dollar for a student, and an affordable path to making a living wage.”

Among recent developments, she said, Oregon recently launched its Future Ready initiative, a $200 million investment focusing on advancing technical job training opportunities for historically underserved communities and those most impacted by the pandemic.

“I think this has been a journey we’ve been on for a while,” she said, noting growth in training programs for computer science, construction and other technical disciplines.