The pandemic has forced fresh approaches to schooling and the workplace — some of which are likely to stick after the crisis passes. However, in the response to COVID-19, state and local leaders must maintain a commitment to one of our most vulnerable population groups: high schoolers moving on to whatever comes next, be it higher education or the job market.

It’s a perilous transition in the best of times, especially for low-income and Black youth. In New Orleans, more young people are completing high school and gaining admission to college — only to discover that success requires more than just getting in. And those who have been on track to enter the workforce directly after high school have been swept aside by the millions of workers recently fired or furloughed.

Both problems beg solutions, and a proven one is career and technical education (CTE). It prepares students with the technical skills, soft skills, networks, and work experiences that they need to thrive. Students concentrating in CTE are 16% more likely to graduate nationally, and 91% of those who complete CTE courses enroll in college. Additionally, high school graduates who gain industry-recognized credentials as part of their CTE training earn more when they enter directly into the workforce.

To extend these benefits to New Orleans public school students, YouthForceNOLA collaborates with businesses, schools, civic organizations, and training providers to offer CTE programs that can lead to well-paying careers.

The many success stories we have seen underscore the power of CTE. Angelle, a YouthForce intern, graduated from Edna Karr High School and then joined our extension academy, LAUNCH, last fall. She earned a certificate in business operations and two health care certifications at the New Orleans Career Center. She is now positioned to transfer her college credits to nursing school while also launching her career.

While attending Sci High, Makiyah took courses in software development through Operation Spark. After high school, he landed a job as a software engineer, making a salary well over the regional median income.

There are innumerable examples of how CTE has expanded opportunities for New Orleans youth. As pandemic recovery plans are adopted, policymakers must double down on the proven success of CTE to uplift lives, especially in communities that have been disproportionately impacted by COVID-19.

CATE SWINBURN

YouthForce

New Orleans