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CTE delivers leaders.

Imagine a football team without a quarterback. Imagine a ship without a captain. Imagine a kitchen without a chef'. Right now, you are probably running a number of worst-case scenarios through your head: a losing season; a ship adrift; some not-so-tasty cookies. The reason your mind has conjured up these end results is because in each of these examples the leader is missing.

Within the education system, career and technical education (CTE) is a vital component in the development of tomorrow's leaders. In its latest Issue Brief, CTE's Role in Leadership Development, ACTE highlights the variety of ways CTE prepares students to be leaders in the classroom, in the school and in business.

Business Needs Leaders

Among desired skills, leadership--the ability to inspire others to achieve a common goal--is often cited as one of the most critical, but deficient, skills. (1) In the past, learning how to motivate others was often learned in the workplace while moving up the corporate ladder. However, as many experienced employees in today's workforce near retirement and jobs become more complex, as well as simultaneously collaborative and self-directed, it is becoming more important that workforce entrants come equipped with leadership ability and experience.

This impending workplace leadership deficit, combined with the curricular time and complexity necessary to develop effective leadership skills, point to the importance of CTE. initiatives. Typically project-based and career-focused, GTE programs not only provide multiple opportunities for students to step up and lead, but also often require them to do so. For example, UTE coursework and activities, like career and technical student organizations (CTS0s), the Junior Reserve Officers' Training Corps (JROTC) and college-level ROTC, are "structured for student leadership success as well as academic achievement." (2)

CTE programs and related initiatives foster future leaders by teaching students to lead through in-class and associated leadership training. by placing students in workplace contexts where they observe leadership in action and by empowering students in authentic leadership roles.

CTE's Leadership Training

One of the challenges to teaching leadership is the ambiguity and nuances of the concept. Because of this abstractness, effective leadership development requires a multifaceted approach that integrates formal instruction to help students conceptualize effective leadership with opportunities to experience leadership. (3) Many CTE initiatives prove successful with leadership training because they do not overlook the need to teach leadership theory and identify the specific actions and qualities that make someone an effective leader.

Arguably, one of the most rigorous and effective career-related leadership curriculums is that used throughout military education, from high school JROTC programs to the Army's Maneuver Captains Career Course, a 22-week continuing education course in leadership. At all levels, leadership development begins with instruction about leadership theory, which teaches students motivational principles, individual and group management practices, decision-making skills and interpersonal relations. (4) Recognizing character development as a necessary precursor to effectively leading others, self-assessment and self-development are also prominent aspects of the leadership curriculum.

Like JROTC, CTSOs provide career-related learning and leadership opportunities to students. Participants can run for formal leadership positions and lead project teams for community service or competitions at the regional, state and national levels. (5) In addition, the CFOs also provide explicit. leadership training to students through a variety of approaches, from classroom instruction to workshops and conferences. For example, the National FFA organization utilizes a LifeKnowledge curriculum to teach students conflict management. strategic thinking, personal goal setting and business communication, many of the components necessary for effective leadership. (6)

Equally important to providing direct instruction is offering students the chance to observe and engage with effective leaders in hands-on and real-world experiences, such as through community involvement, internships, job shadowing and mentoring. (7)

One example of this can be found at Eureka High School in California, which includes a mentorship opportunity in its HealthPlan integrated academic career pathway program. Students in their sophomore year apply with an essay for student blood-drive coordinator positions. Those selected must shadow the current junior-year coordinators, who are responsible for all aspects of running the drives, including communicating with the local blood bank, coordinating with teachers, recruiting blood donors, managing necessary donor permission slips and soliciting food donations for the blood donors. (8)

Many GTE initiatives go beyond the classroom as well, providing experiences in which students can observe how decisions and interactions affect companies and other work environments--aspects of leadership critical for later career success. On a broad scale, Wisconsin's Youth Apprenticeship Program offers one- and two-Year programs that combine worksite experience with related classroom instruction in a wide range of career areas. Juniors and seniors spend part of their day in career-related classes and part of their day in a structured on-the-job mentorship. (9)

Learning and observing leadership provide essential scaffolding for leadership development. But it is only through authentic leadership opportunities-projects where teachers step into the background and allow both setbacks and successes to fall completely on students--that students can fully internalize how to successfully lead others. Student-led UM initiatives enable students to experience communication and execution challenges and discover how their actions or inactions, and prokssionalism or lack thereof, directly impact the success or failure of an endeavor. Within CTE, opportunities range from classroom activities like leading in-class teams to community projects to full-blown student-run businesses, providing a wealth of leadership experiences to students.

Bridge the Gap

As the needs of the workplace change, it is up to education to respond. Employers have made it clear that leadership skills are critical but often lacking in potential employees. Career and technical educators must remind and/or educate their business partners that students participating in GTE programs have the technical skills and the leadership skills to help their businesses succeed.

Career and technical educators, especially ACTE members, are encouraged to use GTE's Role in Leadership Development as they discuss GTE's value with their business partners. This valuable resource is available on the ACTE website at

CTE's Role in Leadership Development was produced with support from the U.S. Army Marketing and Research Group. The findings and recommendations contained in this publication are solely those of ACTE and do riot represent the official viewpoints of the U.S. Army.


(1.) SHRM, The Ongoing Impact of the Recession--Recruiting and Skill Gaps SHRM Poll (November 2011); and Center for Creative Leadership, Understanding the Leadership Skills Gap. (Greensboro, NC: 2008)

(2.) Rice, D., "Qualities That Exemplify Student Leadership," Techniques, 86, no. 5 (May 2011): 28-31.

(3.) Whitehead, G., "Adolescent Leadership Development: Building a Case for an Authenticity Framework," Educational Management Administration Leadership 37, (2009) 847-872.

(4.) National Association of State Boards of Education Study Group. Common Ground: Education & the Military Meeting the Needs of Students. (Arlington, VA: 2009)

(5.) Rice, D., "Qualities That Exemplify Student Leadership," Techniques, 86, no. 5 (May 2011): 28-31.

(6.) ACTE, Expanding Career Readiness through Career and Technical Student Organizations. (Alexandria, VA: 2011)

(7.) Casner-Lotto, J., & Benner, M.W., Are They Really Ready to Work? Conference Board (January 2006).

(8.) National Service-Learning Clearinghouse. (n.d.). "Schoolwide Blood Drive,"

(9.) State of Wisconsin Department of Workforce Development. (n.d.) "Youth Apprenticeship Program Information,"

Peter Magnuson, CAE, is senior director, strategic partnerships at ACTE. He can be reached at
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Title Annotation:Feature
Author:Magnuson, Peter
Date:Feb 1, 2013
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