Career Development

Career and Technical Education: Definition, Benefits and Career Options

February 2, 2021

A career and technical education may be a great option if you want an alternative to a traditional four-year college degree. It can also be beneficial if you plan to pursue a traditional university education but want to start learning real-world knowledge and skills before college. In this article, we explore what career and technical education are and the numerous career tracks available within the program.

What are career and technical education?

Career and technical education (CTE) is the practice of teaching specific tech-based and career-oriented skills to students. Students can take CTE courses in middle school, high school and post-secondary institutions like community or technical colleges. In middle school, CTE is taught as an elective that students can take in addition to their traditional courses. Computer applications courses are especially helpful for middle school students. In high school, CTE is also taught as an elective, but with much greater variety than you will find in middle school. Many high schools use CTE courses to prepare students for certifications that will qualify them for specific careers. 

Unlike traditional and university-based education that focuses on theory, CTE is focused on skills. The bulk of a career and technical education consists of hands-on experience, practice and application tests. With a CTE, students have experience before they start their careers. 

Related: How to List Education on a Resume

Benefits of career and technical education programs

There are several benefits to education through a CTE program. They include:

  • The opportunity to gain work experience through job shadowing, on-the-job training, internships and industry-certifications

  • A wide range of learning experiences that include several career tracks, industries and fields

  • The opportunity to explore both academic and career-oriented courses

Related: Technical Skills: Definitions and Examples

16 tracks of career and technical education

CTE programs of study are organized into different career clusters which include distinct groupings of occupations and industries based on the skills they require. These clusters branch into different tracks that help students narrow their interests and design an educational plan that utilizes career technology to achieve their goals. The different career clusters include:

  • Health science
  • Business, management and administration
  • Marketing and sales
  • Finance
  • Information technology
  • Science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM)
  • Manufacturing
  • Transportation, distribution and logistics
  • Hospitality and tourism
  • Government and public administration
  • Law, public safety and security
  • Agriculture, food and natural resources
  • Human services
  • Architecture and construction
  • Education and training
  • Arts, audio/visual technology and communications

Health science

Health science is divided into five paths, including therapeutic services, diagnostic services, health informatics, support services and biotechnology research and development. Students can prepare for a wide variety of jobs in the health and wellness field, such as nurses and patient care technicians. Students within this career track can start improving and saving the lives of patients the day after they earn their certification. Some certifications they may earn through CTE include:

  • Certified Medical Administrative Assistant (CMAA)
  • Phlebotomy Technician (CPT)
  • Clinical Medical Assistant (CCMA)

Business, management and administration

This career cluster is divided into six pathways, including general management, human resources management, business information management, operations management, accounting and administrative support. This career path prepares students for career planning, organizing, directing and evaluating the functions essential to productive business operations. Business is one of the most popular courses in CTE because of its versatility in preparing students for almost every career.

This track provides students with the knowledge needed to grow or start a business. Students can also earn certifications that demonstrate their knowledge and enhance their resumes, including:

  • Project management professional (PMP)
  • Certified Scrum Master (CSM)
  • Six Sigma Green Belt 
  • Microsoft Office Specialist

Marketing and sales

The marketing and sales cluster is divided into five pathways, including marketing management, merchandising, professional sales, marketing communications and marketing research. This CTE track prepares students for the basics in marketing, sales and customer service and helps them combine their skills to create a positive and successful experience for customers.


The finance career cluster is divided into four pathways, including business finance, insurance, banking services and securities and investments. Students in this track build a strong foundation in understanding cash, revenue, profit margins and expenditures. It is ideal for someone interested in entering the financial world, whether in an accounting firm or working an organization’s accounts receivable. Depending on the career students aspire to, they may need additional diplomas or certifications, although it isn’t required for all finance positions. 

Information technology

Information technology is divided into four pathways: interactive media, programming and software development, information support and services and network systems. Within this track, students study design, development, implementation, support and management of information systems. They learn everything they need to bring companies online, from network setup to equipment maintenance. The combination of CTE and on-the-job-training can rapidly take IT graduates from entry-level work to a chief information officer role.

Science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM)

This cluster prepares students for careers as technologists and engineers by introducing processes in technology, science and math. Because of the high demand for employees in STEM-related careers, CTE STEM graduates have opportunities to earn high salaries with low competition. They can go into machinery, computer applications or even engineering, especially if they pursue an advanced degree in addition to their CTE coursework.


Manufacturing includes six pathways: production, quality assurance, manufacturing production process development, maintenance, installation and repair, logistics and inventory control and health, safety and environmental assurance. Students are prepared for careers that require them to plan, manage and perform the processing of materials into intermediate or final products.

Transportation, distribution and logistics

This career cluster prepares students for careers where they will be involved in planning, managing and moving people, materials and goods by air, rail, water, pipeline and roads. This could include jobs where they are involved in transportation infrastructure planning and management, facility maintenance, logistics services and mobile equipment.

Students who specialize in logistics have career opportunities in almost every area of the U.S., as any computer that needs to track inventory will always need transportation, distribution and logistics specialists. Students get hands-on experience with tracking systems, scheduling practices and identification technologies. Students may learn radio frequency identification (RFID) practices and back-end management systems.

Hospitality and tourism

The hospitality and tourism cluster has four pathways: restaurant and food/beverage services, travel and tourism, lodging and recreation, amusements and attractions. Students get hands-on experience with hospitality management, including the business and industry principles that accompany it. 

Government and public administration

Government and public administration are divided into seven pathways, including national security, foreign service, revenue and taxation, regulation, public management and administration and governance. Typically, students learn about local governments, including taxes, parks, budgeting and counsels. Students who aspire to work in local government will need to participate in politics. While this track will not teach students to market themselves for those endeavors, it will launch them into government work in general.

Law, public safety and security

Law, public safety and security is divided into five pathways: corrections, law enforcement, legal, security protection and emergency and fire management. This is a great track for students who want to branch into criminal justice, particularly law enforcement. CTE gives students the chance to work in other capacities of legal occupations as well, including clerical work. It’s a great starting place for students who want to become more involved in law, regardless of whether they choose to pursue further education.

Agriculture, food and natural resources

Within the agriculture cluster, students are prepared for careers in animal science, plant science, food products and processing, agritechnology and environmental science. Agriculture is a wide-ranging field and students can go on to work as farmers, inspectors, lab technicians, administrators and researchers. If they prefer working indoors to outside, they could work in a laboratory testing soil and building emissions for compliance. 

Human services

Human services is divided into three pathways: family and community services, consumer services and counseling and mental health services. Social work, social services and drug rehabilitation all fall under the umbrella of human services. It differs from the health science track, as students in human services generally have a passion for helping people emotionally.

Architecture and construction

This career path prepares students for careers in pre-construction, construction and operations. They study the principles of designing and drafting structures. While they are not qualified to be an architect, graduates are qualified to work in an architect office or at a construction company. Students also may also be interested in becoming construction inspectors or project estimators. 

Education and training

Education and training prepare students for jobs in education services as well as related learning support with an emphasis on improving the public education system. While CTE isn’t typically enough to become a teacher, it makes someone an ideal candidate for careers in training and recruitment. Graduates could find opportunities in small businesses as well as multi-national corporations. Students can also use this training as foundational knowledge to pursue a career in teaching.

Arts, audio/visual technology and communications

This career path prepares students for work with audio/video technology and film, printing technology, performing arts, visual arts, telecommunications and journalism and broadcasting. While this path can mean drawing, painting and composing, it is more concerned with operating technology that helps to create today’s entertainment. Many students go on to pursue audio engineering, lighting technology and other similar careers.


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