Career and Technical EducationIn Scott Lang's Graphics Communications class at the Bergen County Academies (BCA) students regularly visit Ellis Island. The students capture geometric data and images of key locations within the park. Then, as part of a joint project between BCA and the National Park Service, they create three-dimensional, virtual displays that allow disabled visitors to access previously inaccessible areas of the park, such as the Statue of Liberty’s crown and torch.

At the Cape May County Technical School District, a traditional heating, ventilation and air conditioning (HVAC) vocational class has now become a Green Program of Study. High school students are engaged in a three-year program applying skills in photovoltaic energy collection, solar theory, design and use, wind turbines, and building weatherization concepts. The program prepares students to provide installations, perform service, and create sustainable or green solutions. These students earn industry credentials ranging from an EPA certification to related trade certifications, in addition to college credit in sustainability and energy. The HVAC/Sustainable Energy graduates are ready for employment and a number of post-secondary pathways from apprenticeship to degree programs.

 At Allentown High School, students in the Animal and Plant Biotechnology class work collaboratively as scientists in the Agriculture Cluster. They extract DNA from common plant-based food items using the thermal cycler and electrophoresis. They then determine whether genetically modified plant material was used in production. As they await their results, teacher Dale Cruzan has the students record their procedures in their laboratory notebooks and share their findings just as they would in a research journal.

These and similar career and technical education (CTE) programs across the Garden State have become premier examples of interdisciplinary education and project-based learning. They encompass rigorous academic and technical content to prepare students for careers and postsecondary education while practicing modern skills required for today’s global economy. Clearly, this is not your parent’s vocational education.

Revised standards

Career and Technical EducationCurrently, the New Jersey Core Curriculum Content Standards (NJCCCS) are undergoing the required five-year review process. This has provided an opportunity to reflect on the current CTE standards included in the NJCCCS.

In 2009, New Jersey adopted CTE standards for the first time based on the knowledge and skill statements of the Career Clusters®. The 16 Career Clusters are the organizing framework for the delivery of career and technical education embraced by all states. Developed under the leadership of the National Association of Career Technical Education Consortium (NASDCTEc) in 2002, this framework includes specific knowledge and skill statements that describe what students need to know and do to be successful in the respective Career Cluster (see list below).

In 2012, NASDCTEc updated the Career Clusters  based on input from approximately 3,500 individuals representing 42 states from K-12 education, business, industry, and higher education. The result was the development of the Common Career Technical Core (CCTC), which sets benchmark standards for CTE and defines what students should know and be able to do at the end of a program of study. The CCTC includes content standards for each of the 16 Career Clusters and an overarching set of 12 Career Ready Practices.

The CCTC standards are fewer, crisper rigorous standards for each Career Cluster that provide flexibility for educators. For example, in the NJCCCS for CTE, there are 1,923 Cumulative Progress Indicators (CPIs). The CCTC has narrowed this to 617 Career Cluster /Pathway Standards.

Career-Ready Practices

The Career-Ready Practices of the CCTC reflect career-ready skills that every student and adult will develop and practice at increasing levels of complexity throughout their educational experience. While developing the CCTC, the working groups noted commonalities across all Career Clusters in behaviors and knowledge that individuals need to be successful. These commonalities appeared across even seemingly unrelated career fields, such as Child Development or Computer-Aided Design and Drafting. These practices are aligned to and augment the current 21st-Century Life and Career Skills in the NJCCCS.

The 12 overarching statements that comprise the Career-Ready Practices are:

  • Act as a responsible and contributing citizen and employee.
  • Apply appropriate academic and technical skills.
  • Attend to personal health and financial well-being.
  • Communicate clearly and effectively and with reason.
  • Consider the environmental, social and economic impacts of decisions.
  • Demonstrate creativity and innovation.
  • Employ valid and reliable research strategies.
  • Utilize critical thinking to make sense of problems and persevere in solving them.
  • Model integrity, ethical leadership and effective management.
  • Plan education and career paths aligned to personal goals.
  • Use technology to enhance productivity.
  • Work productively in teams while using cultural global competence.

16 Career Clusters

Agriculture, Food & Natural Resources
Architecture & Construction
Arts, A/V Technology & Communications
Business Management & Administration
Education & Training
Government & Public Administration
Health Science
Hospitality & Tourism
Human Services
Information Technology
Law, Public Safety, Corrections & Security
Science, Technology, Engineering & Mathematics
Transportation, Distribution & Logistics

The Career Ready Practices can be addressed at any grade level. For example, under the heading “Act as a responsible and contributing citizen and employee,” a second-grade class may design a food drive and a high school business class could design a sustainable product. These practices allow students to demonstrate essential career-ready skills and behaviors in any subject, project and grade level.

Moving forward

The Career Ready Practices and the entire CCTC give educators great flexibility in supporting all students to be career ready. The Office of Career and Technical Education at the New Jersey Department of Education engaged with various groups across the state over the past few months to discuss the CCTC. The response has been enthusiastic toward moving in the direction of utilizing these standards.  An alignment study completed by NASDCTEc indicated that the current CTE Standards of the NJCCCS and the CCTC are 97 percent aligned; thereby, not requiring significant modification. To view the CCTC, visit

Melisa Stager and Lori Howard are Education Program Development Specialists in the Office of Career and Technical Education at the New Jersey Department of Education. They wish to thank the following for their contributions to this article: Dale Cruzan, Allentown High School;

Richard Panicucci, Bergen County Technical Schools; Tim Casperson, Bergen County Technical Schools; and Nancy Wheeler Driscoll, Cape May County Technical School District.