College & Workforce Readiness Q&A

How One District Ensures That Career Education Leads to Jobs for Students

By Lauraine Langreo — May 30, 2023 2 min read
Students make measurements to wood to add to a tiny home project during their shop class at Carrick High School in Pittsburgh, Pa., on Dec. 13, 2022.
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Angela Mike sees community partnerships as essential to the success of the Pittsburgh school district’s career and technical education program.

Since taking the helm of the program in 2010, she’s brought on more than 60 partners, including the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center and Pittsburgh’s city government. Mike, a former hairstylist who was once a cosmetology student in the program she now leads, helps partners understand how they can best meet the 20,000-student district’s needs.

Mike spoke with Education Week about what she’s learned from that work.

This interview has been edited for brevity and clarity.

What role do industry partnerships play in a CTE program?

We can’t do it alone. Education and business have to work together. It’s kind of supply and demand, right?

If we get the partners working with us from the very beginning with the students, they’re helping us to mold and prepare the students. The partners help us with deciding what is taught in class and what needs to happen so that students can make a smooth transition into work and then also into postsecondary, if they choose. Those industry partners can also provide field trips, work-based learning opportunities, internships, shadowing, and job offers.

The other thing is if you build those partnerships, they also build in a cushion of funding for you. If you need new equipment and if your industry partners want the students to be prepared to come to them, then many of them donate thousands of dollars worth of equipment [to help with that goal].

Students in the cosmetology class speak with CTE Executive Director, Angela Mike, during their class at Westinghouse High School in Pittsburgh, Pa., on Dec. 13, 2022.

How did you bring in more partners?

I looked at what programs I offer and then I looked at big entities like [the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center]. Instead of trying to bring on 50 partners, if I have one big partner to start with, I probably can help multiple programs. In the medical center, they have the HVAC system that they have to run, [an opportunity for HVAC students to get on-the-job experience]. They also have a cafeteria in the hospital, so that can help with my culinary students. They also have a business office that has IT and accounting that’ll help with my finance program and my IT program. Once those bigger partners get on board with you, they’ll be able to offer field trips, job shadowing, internships, and jobs.

What advice would you give to other CTE leaders?

I would advise other leaders, when they’re meeting with businesses and organizations and creating those partnerships, that they make sure it’s understood from the beginning that the end result they’re looking for is for students to be employed. Because for some partners, this is just a box to check for them, and I wasn’t getting what I needed for students. You have to go in the door with a plan around what you’re looking for and what you need for your students.

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