Why Career Technical Education is Worth Your Investment

Catherine Uong
4 min readFeb 14, 2017

Here is why I left the world of startups and venture capital to invest in our youth and prepare ourselves to redefine the future of work. And why I believe career technical education is worth your investment, too.

After spending two and a half years with the privilege and pleasure of working with over 100 education technology entrepreneurs at Imagine K12, and then at Y Combinator, I decided to leave the Silicon Valley that everyone is bubbling with excitement about. My personal mission to improve the state of our nation’s education system during my time at Imagine K12 led me to learn more about the power of capital and technology to influence our education system. Often portrayed as outdated and slow-moving, the education system has made leaps and bounds in the last five years. Now, 1 in 5 public schools have a mobile technology device ratio of 1 device for 1 student and teachers are beginning to fully utilize the power of technology to redesign and transform learning. Thanks to new investments in education technology, we see students more engaged and motivated in class, teachers using technology to make their classroom processes more efficient, and school leaders investing in their relationships with parents and the local community with the help of technology.

But the proliferation of technology hasn’t come without a cost. As a Bay Area transplant from a small town an hour from Houston, each time I go home, I can visibly see and understand why there are many Americans who believe that technology have costed them their jobs. Part of the glory and social good of entrepreneurship is job creation, but today’s progressive technologies don’t necessarily fit that mold anymore. Automation is real, and the entrepreneurs behind the technologies know this. (See Reid Hoffman, co-founder of LinkedIn’s interview with McKinsey for their report on Automation, Jobs, and the Future of Work) In fact, as technology and automation progresses, entrepreneurs and the businesses they operate will also need to adapt, and without a skilled and adaptable team, businesses will struggle and some may even shutter their doors.

Assuming that automation is inevitable, and the promised jobs of the past will no longer return, what should our young people do? What should entrepreneurs do? What should we, as working industry professionals, do about this, and why should we care? The first step is to prepare learners to be able to quickly adapt to any environment, any new skill, and any task asked of them. However, many of our learners are currently stuck in one learning environment: school. My ask of the entrepreneurs and industry professionals in the room — open your doors, make your workplace a classroom, and help expose our learners to new learning environments. Let learners job shadow you on the job, introduce them to industry trends you see happening in 5–10 years, help prepare these learners for what their future may look like when they enter the workforce. What will your business look like in the future? What skills are non-negotiably crucial to succeeding in the future workforce? What jobs must humans do and cannot be replaced by machines?

Many of our learners are currently stuck in one learning environment: school.

Career Technical Education has been around in American public education for many decades, but it’s seen a resurgence in investment in recent years. With baby boomers retiring, businesses big and small are experiencing a shortage of talent and entrepreneurs are quickly realizing that the local school systems usually do not have career pathways for students to align what they learn in school to what they need to know in the workforce. Many local Career Technical Education programs are scrambling to realign their curriculums to industry needs, and better prepare students for the future of work and the future economy. Where I currently work, Strive San Jose, we use a collective impact model to build strategic and long-term public-private partnerships between school districts, community partners, and local businesses. Strive San Jose is the workforce development initiative at The silicon valley organization (formerly known as the San Jose Silicon Valley Chamber of Commerce), which represents over 1,400 local businesses, and has quickly gained momentum since its inception last year. Our partnerships have launched our flagship Summer Internship Program and other work-based learning opportunities (job shadowing, career days, industry-led workshops, and more), serving over 200 students thus far.

Entrepreneurs and industry professionals in the Bay Area, invest in our local youth and your future talent pipelines, and join us at Strive San Jose to make the real-world the innovative classroom of tomorrow.

Industry-Led “Future of Work” Initiatives, mostly in the Bay Area (courtesy of Strive San Jose team):

Evidence-based Research for CTE:

Exemplary Regional Models in CTE (courtesy of Strive San Jose team):

Thanks to my colleagues Kelly Peaton and Mayra Flores de Marcotte at the silicon valley organization for reading early versions of this post.