Summertime Work – Planning Your CTE Comprehensive Needs Assessment

My colleague Brett Pawlowski recently talked about important lessons drawn from the sports world: “Go where the ball is going to be,” and “Know what you’re going to do once you get the ball.” These are great ideas to keep in mind, particularly if you are tasked with implementing the new Perkins Act requirement about doing a Comprehensive Needs Assessment.

As you may have heard, the new federal Perkins Act (Perkins V) requires each local recipient of funds to conduct a “comprehensive needs assessment” every two years. Using the findings from that assessment, the local school system or college will develop an action plan and use of funds directly tied to those findings. Every dollar of local Perkins spending will have to link back to this needs assessment, so it’s a BIG deal.

The six topics you’ll need to dig into are:

  • Performance on federal accountability indicators;
  • Alignment to labor market needs;
  • Scope, size and quality of programs offered;
  • Progress toward implementing programs and programs of study;
  • Recruitment, retention and training of faculty and staff; and
  • Progress toward improving access and equity

Even though your school district or college may not have to officially conduct the assessment until the new Perkins requirements fully kicks in, it makes sense to get started now because there is a lot to cover.

Here’s a great tool from the Association of Career Technical Education to help you get started.  It has the “comprehensive” title “Maximizing Perkins V’s Comprehensive Local Needs Assessment & Local Application to Drive CTE Program Quality and Equity; A Guide for Local Leaders.” Click on this link to download a copy.

Many areas of the assessment deal with looking internally at your programs, student participation, and connections between secondary and postsecondary. The one which will take more legwork is doing the external analysis of the labor market to ensure your programs have a strong alignment with local and regional needs. The guide gives excellent tips about who to talk to, and what materials and resources to draw upon.

Once you’ve got the materials and contacts, what are you looking for?

Here are a set of questions from the guide to ask as you’re doing the labor market analysis:

  • What industries are projected to grow the most in my local area? What occupations?
  • Are my CTE program offerings broad enough to expose students to all the in-demand industry sectors or occupations in my region?
  • How do my CTE program enrollments match projected job openings? Where are the biggest gaps?
  • What are the emerging occupations in my area to which students should be exposed?
  • What skill needs have industry partners identified as lacking in my programs?
  • Which graduates of my programs are thriving in the labor market, and why?
  • What opportunities exist in my local labor market for students with disabilities, English learners or other special populations?

While labor market data sources are a good place to start, there is no substitute for face-to-face discussions. You should plan on some talks with individual labor market and economic development experts, and several talks with small groups of employers from different industry sectors. The talks will be more to the point if you focus on individual sectors, rather than bringing everyone together in one big meeting. 

IDEA TO CONSIDER — To avoid wearing out your local employers with multiple requests from many school districts, you might band together with workforce experts, other schools, and colleges to conduct these meetings on a regional basis since the information you glean is going to be the same. You can start planning these meetings now.

Working with this guide over the summer months and planning actions for each area of work will give you an excellent agenda for the upcoming year. Even though it will entail a good amount of work, by getting started now and the early months of the Fall, you’ll be ahead of the game in doing this analysis. Starting up, revamping, and/or phasing out programs is a long-term proposition and takes strong political will and sometimes funding. You’ll need these external partners working with you to make any substantive programmatic changes.

By developing strong connections now, you’ll be able to make informed recommendations and decisions, and create a long-term strategy for better labor market alignment.

Good luck!

Hans Meeder is President of NC3T, the National Center for College and Career Transitions ( NC3T provides planning, coaching, technical assistance and tools to help community-based leadership teams plan and implement their college-career pathway systems and strengthen employer connections with education.

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