The Shaping of CTE in Massachusetts and Beyond

Career and technical education (CTE) has been significantly influenced by societal and economic changes, adapting to meet evolving workforce demands. Initially established in the 19th century as vocational education, CTE aimed to equip individuals with practical skills in response to economic shifts. The Smith-Hughes Act of 1917 formalized vocational education, creating structured programs in agriculture, home economics, and industry. Post–World War II, the surge in demand for skilled workers prompted the expansion of CTE beyond traditional fields to accommodate a broader array of career pathways. In the mid-20th century, we witnessed a temporary decline in CTE popularity due to a societal emphasis on obtaining a college education. However, a resurgence began in the late 20th century as the importance of technical and applied skills became evident. Technological innovation and globalization have significantly influenced CTE in recent decades, driving its evolution to integrate cutting-edge technologies and emphasize STEM education.1

The economic shift toward a knowledge-based economy has been pivotal in influencing the increased value of CTE. In recent years, industries such as information technology, healthcare, and green energy have gained prominence, driven by technological advancements and a growing focus on sustainability. This shift has created a demand for individuals with practical skills and technical expertise—precisely the areas that CTE programs aim to address.

Moreover, societal changes emphasizing inclusivity, diversity, and equity have played a crucial role in shaping CTE. As the importance of providing equal educational opportunities for all individuals has become more evident, CTE has adapted to enhance accessibility and relevance. This alignment with broader societal values increases the overall impact of CTE and highlights its role in fostering a workforce that reflects the diversity of the community it serves.

In recent decades, Massachusetts has undertaken a comprehensive overhaul of its CTE programs through initiatives like the Skills Capital Grant Program. The state has also implemented higher reimbursement rates for high school building projects incorporating CTE programs. These efforts are aimed at modernizing and enhancing vocational and technical education opportunities for students throughout the state.

It’s worth noting that Salem High School is presently in the early stages of the Massachusetts School Building Authority (MSBA) building process. This indicates a commitment to providing state-of-the-art facilities that can support and accommodate the evolving needs of CTE programs. Progressing through the MSBA building process presents an exciting opportunity for us to further align our infrastructure with our goals of offering high-quality CTE education to our students, ensuring they have access to modern, well-equipped learning environments. These initiatives collectively demonstrate Massachusetts’s dedication to preparing students for successful careers in today’s workforce by investing in cutting-edge CTE programs and facilities.

Mario Sousa is the director of career and technical education at Salem High School in Salem, Massachusetts. Previously, he was a lead carpentry teacher for Somerville Public Schools and operated a successful construction company for 12 years.


1. S. Dougherty and A. Lombardi, “From Vocational Education to Career Readiness: The Ongoing Work of Linking Education and the Labor Market,” Review of Research in Education 40 (March 2016): 326–55.

American Educator, Spring 2024