in: Career, Career & Wealth, Podcast

• Last updated: July 24, 2023

Podcast #912: Here’s What It Could Look Like to Put the Trades Back in School

Lately, I’ve been talking to my son Gus about considering a career in the trades. A lot of the white collar jobs out there don’t seem very fulfilling, and A.I. is going to make more and more of them disappear. But skilled tradesmen are in demand, and that demand is only going to grow. One option I’ve floated to Gus is to still go to an affordable college, for the mind expansion and social opportunities, but then, instead of going on to get a graduate degree, as so many young people do, he could go to trade school instead.

That’s one potential route should he be interested, but I sure wish he could be exposed to the trades while he’s still in secondary education. All states have forms of what’s called “Career and Technical Education,” or CTE, but in most places, it’s set up in a patchwork fashion; the programs are run by local schools that partner with other institutions that offer instruction in the trades.

The state of Connecticut does things differently. They have a one-of-a-kind CTE system, which, as one journalist recently put it, could serve as a national model for how to put the trades back in school. The Connecticut Technical Education and Career System, or CTECS, includes 17 high schools that are all headed by a single agency. Each school offers an education in both academics and the trades on the same campus. The students who choose to attend these special high schools spend half of their time on the former and half of their time on the latter, so by the time they graduate, they’ve earned both a high school diploma and certification in a trade. And the size and organization of CTECS allows it to partner with hundreds of employers in the area who furnish students with paid work on actual projects, so they can get plenty of hands-on, real world experience.

Today on the show, I talk to Brent McCartney, who oversees the architecture and construction trades at CTECS, about how the program works and how it benefits both the students and the community.

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Read the Transcript

Brett Mckay: Brett McKay here and welcome to another edition of the Art of Manliness Podcast. So, lately I’ve been talking to my son Gus, about considering a career in the trades. A lot of the white collar jobs out there, they just don’t seem very fulfilling and AI is gonna make more and more of them disappear. But skilled tradesmen are in demand, and that demand is only going to grow. So one option I floated to Gus is to still go to an affordable college for mind expansion and social opportunities. But then instead of going on to get a graduate degree, as so many young people do, he could go to trade school instead. So that’s one potential route should he be interested but I really wish he could be exposed to the trades while he’s still in high school. All states have forms of what’s called Career and Technical Education or CTE, but in most places it’s set up in a patchwork fashion.

The programs are run by local schools who partner with other institutions that offer instruction in the trades. The State of Connecticut does things differently. They have a one of a kind CTE system, which as one journalist recently put it, could serve as a national model for how to put the trades back in school. The Connecticut Technical Education and Career System or CTECS include 17 high schools that are all headed up by a single agency. Each school offers an education in both academics and the trades on the same campus. The students who choose to attend these special high schools spend half of their time on the former and half of their time on the ladder, so by the time they graduate, they’ve earned both a high school diploma and certification and a trade. And the size and organization of CTECS allows it to partner with hundreds of employers in the area who furnish students with paid work on actual projects. So they get plenty of hands-on real world experience. Today in this show, I talk to Brent McCartney, who oversees the architecture and construction trades at CTECS about how the program works and how it benefits both the students and the community. After the show is over, check at our show notes at

Alright, Brent McCartney, welcome to the show.

Brent McCartney: Thanks for having me.

Brett Mckay: So you are a consultant for the Connecticut Technical Education and Career System, but you began your career in construction. Tell us about your background and how you came to work with C-T-E-C-S. I’m really excited to talk about this.

Brent McCartney: Well, I’m excited to talk about it too. So my career path actually starts with CTECS. I am a graduate from our program. I graduated from Howell Cheney Tech in Manchester in 2001 and I was part of the carpentry program there. After graduation, I started working right in the field, so residential and commercial construction. And I did that both in Connecticut and Pennsylvania. My wife got her master’s out in Pittsburgh, so we moved out there in 2007. I really enjoyed working construction, but then one day, a friend of mine was like, “Oh, I think you should teach. I think you’d really like it.” And as soon as I was done laughing about that, I was like, “Yeah, what the heck? I’ll try it out.” So in 2009 I applied for a teaching position out in Pennsylvania. It was a building trades program, so it’s a little different than what we do here in Connecticut.

For that, I had to teach carpentry and electrical to numerous grade levels of students. But I’ll tell you what, it was the best decision of my life. I really liked working with the kids, kind of mentoring them through the process and helping them find their passion and their path. My wife finished her master’s, so in 2010 we moved back to Connecticut and I was very lucky because a position opened up at EC Goodwin in New Britain and I was hired and I taught carpentry there for about eight years. Again, I loved it. I’d bring kids out to real jobs and we would work on these projects for customers. And the connection I had with the kids was just great. Working out there, it couldn’t have gotten better. In 2018 I was asked to commit to our central office as an intern and I really was hesitant to do it. I really didn’t think I was gonna like it because I really liked working with the kids, but I figured I would turn out and again, I was wrong. I really enjoyed it. I worked now with teachers of the architecture, carpentry, landscaping, and masonry shops in our district and I really enjoy it. I really enjoy mentoring these teachers and setting up their professional development and their facilities and kind of getting into the policy side of education.

Brett Mckay: Well, so the Connecticut Technical Education and Career System, so it’s CTECS for short, that’s what you guys call it?

Brent McCartney: It is. Yep.

Brett Mckay: CTECS. Alright. So this is a one of a kind high school system in the United States that combines academics and trade training. So can you give us a big picture overview of CTECS? Like, how long has it been around and how did the idea kick off?

Brent McCartney: Sure, sure. So it’s been around for a little over a hundred years. In its infancy it was kind of developed through industry itself and then became more and more like a school setting instead of just trade. And so now in 2023, our mission remains the same. We’re here to be the primary pipeline for students going into the field. So, our students here at CTECS have 91 full days of academics and then we have 91 days in trade. So they kind of get both of those educations in the same time that a student would just get the academics in another high school.

Brett Mckay: Okay. So they’re learning Geometry, History, but they’re also learning how to do masonry or carpentry or being an electrician.

Brent McCartney: That’s exactly right. So we have 20 schools, two of them are adult aviation, so those schools don’t have academics built into them, those are just primarily aviation schools. We have one Tech Ed Center. This is also a little bit different. It’s a lot like what you would see in other states where the students for that school get their academics from their sending town and then when they’re in 11th and 12th grade, they can go to that school to get some CTE education as well as adults. Adults also attend that school. But 17 of our schools are diploma granting high schools. So they’re our students, they get all of their academics and all of their trade with us.

Brett Mckay: And it’s a public school system?

Brent McCartney: It is a public school system and we’re also a state entity. So we’re state funded, which really helps us ’cause it increases kind of the partnerships we have with state agencies like the Department of Labor and Department of Transportation and Department of Education obviously. It helps us to align to state initiatives. So we work closely with the Governor’s Workforce Council and others to make sure that we’re relevant within our state and also some high level partnerships. So being a state entity really helps.

Brett Mckay: And how many students are enrolled in CTECS right now?

Brent McCartney: So right now we have 11,500 students roughly.

Brett Mckay: Oh wow.

Brent McCartney: Yeah. Yeah. And that’s daytime students. We also run night school, so we have about 3000 adult learners also.

Brett Mckay: So what’s interesting about CTECS, it’s been around for over 100 years, they’re combining academics with the trade training. But it’s interesting, you look back at public education in America, big picture across the country, and it used to be a lot of high schools would offer some sort of trade training, right? You could take car shop, you could take wood shop. But most high schools, they don’t even offer those classes anymore. Why did any kind of trade training in American Public Education except at CTECS, but why do you think, if you’re looking at it from a big picture over you, why do you think it got eliminated from a lot of public high schools?

Brent McCartney: Well, I think there’s really two things happening here. One was just society’s perception of what a successful path looks like. And for many, that included college. I mean, there was… Like I said, I went to tech school myself. I started in ’97, graduated in ’01. And the perception back then was, if you didn’t have a college degree you weren’t gonna be successful. So I think that that got kind of programmed into people, so they didn’t see the trades as an option, which we now know is completely false. But I also think that educational policy had a lot to do with this also. No Child Left Behind was enacted and the focus went to accountability instead of the skills that students were learning, and now you’re looking at high stakes testing being the benchmark for success, so a lot of teachers just started teaching to the test, teaching just the content. And we moved away from how kids were working with information. So a lot of problem solving and critical thinking was taken away, a lot of communication skills and kind of that independent thinking. And then when No Child Left Behind kind of sifted out, we’re looking at the technology boom, right? So we’re looking at focusing on computers and other technology. So I just think that the trades took a backseat in a lot of ways.

Brett Mckay: And what do you think the consequences have been with the shift primarily to academics in American high schools? How has it hurt our country on a macro level you think?

Brent McCartney: Well, I would tell you to try to find a contractor to come work on your house and you’d feel that pain immediately. I think it’s had a severe impact on the amount of trained workers that we have in a lot of fields in our country. The average age of a worker right now is nearing retirement age. They’re retiring faster than we have kids coming in. So there’s just a lot of knowledge being lost, a lot of experience being lost. ‘Cause a lot of the trades that we work with, including an apprenticeship and on the job training and as these people are retiring and not retraining then we’re kind of losing a lot of that experience. So we really need to focus on how this is a successful route. This is a place where people can make money and be successful with having a family, having a house, and making a living.

Brett Mckay: I’m sure it’s different in every part of the country, but what’s the supply of skilled labor like in different sectors? Is there a field like carpentry or electrical that’s hurting the most? What are you seeing in your neck of the woods?

Brent McCartney: Well, so in Connecticut, I would say that construction and manufacturing are probably the biggest career paths that are kind of in need. So, really construction with all types of construction. But last year there was a 5.4 billion infrastructure bill passed and there’s a lot of work to be done on our bridges and our roadways and stuff. So I think that with all of those fields, so the electrical that goes into that and the prepping of the roads to putting down the roads, I think there’s gonna be a lot of work in that realm. But just residential and commercial construction is also booming, but manufacturing around us is huge. So we have Pratt & Whitney Sikorsky Electric Boat and we’re working with them constantly to try to meet their needs, but they have some pretty substantial needs.

Brett Mckay: So we’ve talked about macro level, how this shift away from trade training and just focusing on academics has hurt us. Yeah, if someone has tried to get a contractor, a roof repaired, electrician, a plumber, it could be weeks before you can even get anything on the calendar. Let’s talk about on an individual level with the student, what do you think has happened to individual students? How has it hurt individual students by shifting away from trade training and just focusing on academics?

Brent McCartney: Well, we hear it all the time, right? So that students will go to a two or four-year college and either not finish or finish into a field that doesn’t have work, right? So they have this diploma, but there’s no job to fill that. I’m the perfect example. When I graduated in 2001, I made a deal with my mom. She wanted me to get a degree because again, that’s what we had to do back in the day to be successful. So I actually have an Associate’s degree that it’s helped me now because I’m pursuing my Doctorate in Educational Leadership, so I use that transfer credit as much as I could. But I only did it because I thought at that time that I needed it. And so I think having that as like the norm for kids that don’t want a career that needs a college diploma, I just think there’s a lot of wasted money in education out there.

Brett Mckay: Yeah. Have you seen CTS create more opportunities for students who would’ve normally fallen between the cracks in a traditional high school?

Brent McCartney: So I don’t know that I love the term fall between the cracks.

Brett Mckay: Sure.

Brent McCartney: Because it’s not like we’re filled with students who are unsuccessful in other routes. But I do think that we’re helping students make educated decisions. When they come to us, there’s a huge focus on career exploration. So even inside of one shop, there’s many, many, avenues. Take carpentry for instance, there’s residential carpentry and all the different siding and roofing and framing, there’s commercial construction, there’s construction management, horizontal construction like I was talking about with roadwork. So we do focus a lot on career exploration so that students can make educated decisions. So then if they do go off to college, which happens quite a bit, they’re going to get a degree in a field that they’re gonna pursue.

Brett Mckay: Gotcha. Well, speaking of that idea that you don’t wanna say that the program only attracts students who haven’t thrived in traditional high school. What’s the makeup, the demographic. So I think one of the reasons why trade school was looked down upon or was just looked over, was the idea that it’s blue collar, it’s just for working class kids. And if you want to be part of the middle class or the upper class, you gotta go to college. So does that stereotype hold up or are you getting kids who come from white collar or middle class families, but they’re still seeing trade schools as a viable option. I guess, are you getting a wide swath of the socioeconomic spectrum?

Brent McCartney: It is a wide swath. So again, our system covers the whole state. So with the 20 locations, we’re all over Connecticut, and Connecticut in itself is very diverse, but I would say that the makeup of each of our schools matches the sending towns within that area. So I definitely don’t see any notable difference in socioeconomic status or gender or race or… I mean, we’re open to all Connecticut residents and we promote our district equally throughout the state.

Brett Mckay: Have you seen more interest in general in CTECS from both parents and high schoolers in Connecticut?

Brent McCartney: So over the last couple years, yeah. Our applications for open seats has doubled. So there definitely is more of a push and we do our best too to match the needs in that area, so it’s very relevant for students that live in that area.

Brett Mckay: So how so how does it change from area to area? Like, why would it be different in one part of the state compared to another?

Brent McCartney: Well, all on the industry that’s in that area. So when we open programming or close programming or move programming, it’s all based on industry need and department of labor data. So we do our best to make educated decisions about what we put in schools. We also try to make sure that each school has a good profile because you will have students that will come in that are very physical, they wanna work outside. So we have a lot of the construction trades are auto and then we also have some sit down trades like IT and digital media or architecture, so students can kind of now be more of an an office setting. So yeah, we match the deal data for that area and then we also match just to make sure that we have a plethora of opportunities for students.

Brett Mckay: So you mentioned some of the trade offerings you have. You have electrical, carpentry, masonry, you also have architecture. How many total trades are you training at CTECS?

Brent McCartney: So currently we have 31 different trade offerings kind of all over the place, right? So we have transportation trades, auto, diesel, collision repair, we have construction, there’s nine trades within construction, everything from electrical to HVAC systems, plumbing, carpentry, masonry, landscaping, then we have some in the health and people services. So we have a criminal justice and protective services, we have health tech, veterinary science, we have culinary hairdressing. So really all across the map we have trade programming.

Brett Mckay: Okay. So say a student wants to get involved in CTECS, they enroll. How does a student decide which area or which trade they’re gonna focus on when they enroll?

Brent McCartney: So this is one of the things I think that we do best because I think there’s a lot of perceptions out there of what each trade is, but until you actually get in and do it, it’s hard to make that decision. So we have what we call our exploratory process, and every student at CTECS will spend two days and every one of the shops that we offer. And in that two days, the teacher will kind of go over what it looks like to be there for four years, what it looks like upon graduation and all those different career pathways associated. And some of those again might include college, some of them might include an apprenticeship, some of them might include direct employment, but they kind of get a feel for each of the shops. Then at the end of that, they pick three shops to go back to. So they’ll go back to three shops for four days and really kind of dig down deep as to what that shop is, what it has to offer. But in both phase one and phase two, they’ll complete a project also that mimics what they’re gonna do in the four years. So they can kind of see if they have an aptitude or an interest in that area.

Brett Mckay: That’s really cool. So let’s talk about what day-to-day life is like for these students. It’s grades 9-12, let’s talk about the academic side, what does an academic education look like with trade training? How do you combine the two? So you mentioned there’s 91 days of academic instruction and then 91 days of trade instruction. What does a typical schedule look like for a student?

Brent McCartney: Well, let’s start off with the shift. So I keep saying 91 and 91, but it’s not 91 straight days and 91 straight days. So it’s best to say about 10 day cycles, somewhere around a two-week mark. So what will happen is like at the beginning of the year, 9th and 12th graders will start off in academics while 10th and 11th graders are in shop. And like I said, roughly around 10 days with holidays and stuff in there, it varies, but they’ll switch about every 10 days. So when they’re in academics, it’s your typical setup, just like a regular high school. So they’re going period to period, Math, English, Social Studies, they have gym, Spanish, Art, and they rotate through their schedule. And then when they’re in shop in the 9th and 10th grade, they have two pullouts for Literacy and Numeracy Lab, but otherwise they’re in the shop all day. And then in 11th and 12th grade, they have one pullout for what we call portfolio, this is where they learn a lot about employability skills, resume building and stuff like that. But otherwise they’re in the trade all day. So that’s pretty much what their schedule looks like.

Brett Mckay: Alright, so 10 days on with the academic and then 10 days with the trade training. So you mentioned the 9th and 10th graders, the first two years, it’s different from the 11th and 12th graders, we’ll talk about… I really wanna talk about the 11th, the 12th graders do case, this is really cool what they do. But 9th and 10th grade, what does vocational training look like for them those first two years?

Brent McCartney: So, very, very hands-on, depending on the shop, but we’re really talking about the foundation of learning in 9th and 10th, so they’re learning a lot of new vocab, it’s a completely different language with the shop that they’re in, and then they’re learning a lot of safety, depending on the shop. Every one of our shops has hazards, construction obviously with heights and the machinery we’re using, manufacturing is all machinery. When you walk into the shop, you can see machines from one side to the other, so there’s a lot of safety in there. And then a lot of math, so what we like to call applicable math, ’cause now we’re talking about the math that they’re gonna use every day in the shop.

And we do a good job in our district of tying it back to what they’re learning in academics also, and vice versa. But yeah, a lot of foundational learning, but we like to… So we’re a competency-based district, so we’ll teach them a competency and then we’ll mix those into a project. So that way, the students can really dig down deep and learn.

Brett Mckay: So the first years, you’re primarily gonna be in the shop, in that environment, correct?

Brent McCartney: For most of our shops, yeah, they’re doing projects within the shop. Yes.

Brett Mckay: Gotcha. But one of the unique things about CTECS is that when a student becomes a junior, they can actually start working on projects for real customers. So tell us about the work-based learning program.

Brent McCartney: Well, so I’ll back it up one and talk about our student work force. So our student workforce has two kind of pathways in it. One of them is what we would call student production, and one of them is WBL. Student production is where our students are working with their instructors to complete projects. And we do this, every program does some sort of production, so like hair dressing or automotive or culinary, we’ll have customers coming into the school and eating, k getting their hair done or their car work on, and then the construction trades will go off campus, they’ll do boiler furnace swap-outs, put an AC, we build houses, addition sheds, re-roof, so we do a lot of projects for customers in that respect also.

So that’s our student production where they’re working with their teacher. And this benefits everybody in a lot of ways. One, we charge about the fifth of the cost of industry, because it’s a learning environment, but they’re getting the same product, so it’s very beneficial to the customer, and it’s very beneficial for us because one, it gives the students a real project to work on, it gives them that customer experience, so they’re building up their employability skills, communication skills and such, but they also take it a lot more seriously. It also offsets our budget ’cause we do charge, so we do take in a little money on production. So this is honestly, having a full day of shop is really beneficial because the kids will get to do these experiences. In some vocational settings, it’s not full day, so it would be very hard to leave or take on some of these projects.

Brett Mckay: Gotcha. Okay, so that’s with the teachers there, guiding… It’s sort of like the foreman, he’s there to offer guidance and helping the kids out there.

Brent McCartney: Exactly. It’s the same thing as teaching in a classroom, you’re just doing it out in the field. So the teacher kind of takes on that contractor role, plans out his or her lesson for the day, but it’s also finishing a project for a customer, like I said, in and out of the school.

Brett Mckay: And are the kids getting graded on their performance when they’re doing that?

Brent McCartney: They are. Yeah, this is all part of their grades. So, partially on the product that they’re putting out, and partially on how they completed the project. So this is how we are building employable students is through real work.

Brett Mckay: We’re gonna take a quick break for a word from our sponsors.

And now back to the show. Okay, so there’s that one aspect where the students are working with their teachers on different projects, but then there’s also another aspect of this work-based learning where they’re actually going out there and apprenticing. Correct?

Brent McCartney: They are. So because our curriculum is to teach them the field, we can align that to them actually working. So a student could get hired in their junior or senior year and go off and work with that contractor, and not only is that contractor paying them, but they’re also getting school credit. They’re getting credit towards their grades. This is one of the best things that we do, because we find when students go out there and really experience it with a employer, they end up staying in the field. They’d make a more of a vested interest in it and make a better decision than stay in the field.

Brett Mckay: Okay. And so they get to leave school to go work during the day?

Brent McCartney: Exactly. Yep. During their trade cycle, because again, it aligns with their curriculum. So they’re still learning what they’re supposed to be learning, they’re just doing it in the field.

Brett Mckay: And they’re getting paid for it. This is like a job.

Brent McCartney: And they’re getting paid for it. Yep. And we have an agreement with the Department of Labor. So a lot of our career pathways that we have here are generally for 18 and older students or workers. Right? So it’s a hazardous field. I mean, even some culinary places that have slicers, you have to be 18 to be on the slicer, construction itself is almost all 18 and over just because of the hazards. Automotive is the same way. But we have an agreement with the Department of Labor that is part of WBL, students can go work in these hazardous trades as soon as 16. And that’s just because our safety programming has been vetted and approved for our students to go off and work in these fields.

Brett Mckay: And when they’re working in the field, like when they’re working for somebody and getting paid, is the employer also giving you guys like the school feedback on how the student is doing so you can help with their progress?

Brent McCartney: Absolutely, yeah. So, they sign on and when they’re signing on all the verbiage in the application process is mentor, so we really stress that this isn’t just your regular employee, although you should be teaching all of your employees, but this is really a student employee, and the whole purpose of this is to enhance their education. So they’re not out there just sweeping floors and cleaning up and getting coffees. That’s not what the program is for. They’re the mentor and it’s kind of their responsibility to make sure these students are getting that experience. So we get feedback in two ways. One, the student has a journal where they write what they’re doing and it’s the department’s head of the trades responsibility to kind of align that to the curriculum. But then we also get a report back from the employer. The first part of the report’s pretty prescriptive. We have the questions there to ask how they’re doing, but then there’s also an area there for their comments so we can really understand what that student’s getting. Because sometimes, we’ll call students back if we feel they’re not getting a part of the curriculum. So we’ll say you can’t go out these couple of days so that we can teach you this because you’re not getting it with the contractor. And then we’ll put ’em back out to work.

Brett Mckay: And do you guys have a lot of buy-in from employers in the state? Is there a lot of interest from employers in being part of the program?

Brent McCartney: Absolutely. We have over 600 employer partners within our district. And that’s only gonna go up. I bet that’s actually not even a correct number. For a while, we’ve been trying to manage this as well as we could, but now we’re instituting what we’re calling the career center. And the career center’s sole purpose will be to kind of wrangle the cats, if you will. So they’re going to kind of coordinate the effort that everybody has going on. So they will be the one stop shop for industry to call upon, but also for teachers and students to call upon just to kind of funnel in all the effort and make sure that the students are accessing them, but also industries accessing us appropriately.

Brett Mckay: And so, as you said, these kids, they’re doing academics, they’re doing the trade training, when they’re juniors and seniors, they’re getting on the job training and getting paid for it. But as you said, they’re also having a regular high school experience, they’re playing sports and joining clubs and doing dances and things like that.

Brent McCartney: Yeah, absolutely. With the exception of aviation in Bristol, because again, that’s adult ed, but the 17 other schools have volleyball, basketball, baseballs, softball, golf, some of them are in football co-ops and they also have the availability, if it’s a sport that we don’t have but their sending school does, they can wrestle for them or swim for them. Homecoming, prom, senior outings, pep rally, stuff like that is all very, very common in our schools. And so are clubs. Each school has a set of clubs for the students too.

Brett Mckay: That’s cool. So when these kids graduate from CTECS, they have a high school diploma and then they also, they get a certificate in their trade, correct?

Brent McCartney: They do, yep.

Brett Mckay: And I imagine they’ve worked enough hours to start working right away.

Brent McCartney: Yeah, every field has a little bit different of a process. So like, the licensed trades in Connecticut, electrical, plumbing, and HVAC, hairdressing, are all examples of licensed trades. Our students get hours towards their apprenticeship, so they’ll get 750 related training hours and then they get about 1500 on the job training hours towards that apprenticeship. In some other cases that don’t have apprenticeships, they’ll have certifications like welding and stuff like that. We have avenues for students to get certified or qualify for certification, and so each one of our fields we have pretty distinct pathways that the students can follow.

Brett Mckay: Yeah, so with the high school diploma they could go to college or they could start working right away. What do you see most students doing after they graduate from CTECS? Are they just going right into the trade, or what percentage are going to college, et cetera?

Brent McCartney: So I would say it’s probably… I looked at the data recently from last year, there’s about 40% of our students that are going for full-time work in their trade. And then there’s a chunk not in that 40% that are kind of part-time going to school, part-time working in the trade and going to school. And then we have probably 40% also that pursue a two to four year degree. And out of that number, a majority of them are trade related. So like vet science for instance, a lot of those students would be going to get their associates degree in veterinary technology to be a vet tech architecture or what we call mechanical drafting and engineering tech technology, which is mechanical drafting, they could be going on to get become an architect or become an engineer, a civil engineer, mechanical engineer. So some of the pathways are pretty aligned.

Brett Mckay: I thought it was interesting how some of the kids did the halfway thing that you mentioned where they’d go to school, college part-time, but then they’d also work part-time in a trade that they were trained in at CTECS to save money. ‘Cause I mean there’s been a lot of discussion these days about the amount of college debt that young people are taking on and it’s becoming unbearable, but this is a way that they can mitigate that and continue to get some real world experience and also save money in the process.

Brent McCartney: Absolutely. And there’s even, especially in our area of the country, there’s even companies that will sponsor a kid through school. So they’ll hire ’em and they’ll work for them and they’ll actually pay off their school loans and stuff that’s provided. ’cause again, everyone’s trying to build their workforce.

Brett Mckay: Have there been any other states that have implemented something similar to CTECS or is this like one of a kind in Connecticut?

Brent McCartney: I think there’s CTE in most every state throughout the country, but what makes CTECS different is number one, all of our schools are under one system. That’s very unique throughout. When you go to say surrounding states here in Massachusetts, Pennsylvania, each one of those schools is its own entity. So if there’s two carpentry teachers there for instance, they find their own professional development, they do their own industry outreach and as they’re developing their curriculum and stuff, that’s done all in-house. Here, we have a very robust system. So we have a very robust central office. So for me, I oversee the architecture, carpentry, masonry and landscaping trades, and I have 32 carpentry teachers, for instance, if we just pick one trade, that’s a lot of collaboration, that’s a lot of outreach. That way, we can get more industry in ’cause that connection is paramount. We need that connection in order to stay relevant, to stay up on the times and making sure that our product is what they’re looking for.

Brett Mckay: I’m curious, so you’ve mentioned… So they’re getting the training, like the skill based training, and then when they’re on the job, they’re learning employee skills, like how to show up on time, how to fill out forms things like that. Are you guys also teaching kids like how to run a business? I mean I imagine that’s another skill set that… Okay, you might start off as a journeyman, electrician, and eventually, you wanna work your way up and you’re like, I love this career. I actually wanna start, I want to own and run my own electric company or electrician company. Do you guys teach like how to manage a business as well?

Brent McCartney: Not explicitly, because like we talked about the foundation skills and just the muscle memory that goes into the hands-on skills that they’re learning, you can’t stuff everything in all at once, so we don’t. Our goal is to give them the skills they need for entry level employment, but we do talk about when we’re exploring the career and all that, we do talk about those avenues that they exist. But the actual running the books or accounting part of a business or the specifics like that, we do not.

Brett Mckay: But I imagine by being on the job, they probably pick up some of that stuff. They get to see it in action, and also by talking to their mentors they can kind of get an idea of what that’s like.

Brent McCartney: Yeah, exactly. So every one of the jobs we do, we contract out, ’cause obviously we’re a state agency so we would have a contract with the customer. The kids are along for that process, they get to go off and they get to have the conversation from the very beginning. So, I guess they do get that feel on how to speak to a customer, how to develop the plan for the job, write the contract, and then obviously execute the job.

Brett Mckay: All right, so when they graduate, they have enough hours typically to start working, starting job. What’s the starting salary for some of these kids right outta high school? ‘Cause that’s another thing, with college, you go to college, you had probably take on a lot of debt and then with the college education, it might be years before you actually recoup the cost of that college investment. Like, what are kids making right out of high school?

Brent McCartney: So it’s really hard to say because every field is so different, but because our system is so well known within Connecticut, we have a lot of articulation agreements with industry. So I can tell you that a lot of our students get apprenticeship credit. So where a student that’s not coming from CTECS would start as the bottom apprentice. In many respects, our students do not. So they’re starting with a year or two of experience under their belt according to the apprenticeship, so they’re starting at a higher pay. And then also they have the tools, even those students who start kind of making the, not minimum wage but the minimum wage within a company, they have the tools to advance quickly, and that’s very, very common for our students. So they’ll start off as a regular employee down kind of on the bottom, but then the employer can see what they have and they very quickly are giving them a promotion just to keep ’em.

Brett Mckay: Well let’s say someone’s listening to this and they don’t live in Connecticut and they’re thinking, “This sounds really cool, I wish there was something like this for my kid.” Based on your experience, is there a way for a kid who lives in, I don’t know, Oklahoma where I’m at, to replicate something like CTECS has on their own? Or is this, I mean, is it just so such a unique thing that it’s kind of hard to?

Brent McCartney: I think it’s a heavy lift, right? Because we are a large district, over 11,000 kids, somewhere around 2000 staff members. But CTE again is everywhere, all over our country. And if I had to pick some key characteristics of good career and technical education, I would say industry outreach has to be number one. Seeing what’s in that area, what’s relevant in aligning curriculum if it’s in a school or aligning training if you’re already out of school, in a lot of respects, industry is chomping at the bit to get into schools. So they’re willing to come in and give kids an experience, whether it’s just guest speaking or a field trip, they’re very into that.

I would also say experiential learning is very important. So a lot of times when I get phone calls from, again, I’m mostly in the construction trades, I’ll get phone calls from contractors, I won’t hear a lot about the content we teach, but it’ll be more about the employability skills. So learning how to communicate, be punctual, critically think and kind of develop your own plan. So I think that those are all key items for a student to get into the field. And then any kind of industry credential that you could have is huge because it shows that you’re eager and willing to learn and your’re vested in your career.

Brett Mckay: Have you seen other states come out to CTECS to take a look at it and see if they could replicate something that you guys have? ‘Cause I imagine other states are seeing the pint up demand and the decrease of supply in skilled labor and they’re probably wanting to do something. Are you seeing an interest in CTECS from other states?

Brent McCartney: Yeah, we have. We also participate in what’s called NEASC, which is an accreditation and each school in New England has this. So we will actually go to their schools and they’ll come to our schools to complete this accreditation. So there’s a lot of collaboration in that. But yeah, we consistently will collaborate with, especially schools in Massachusetts ’cause we’re so close, we will go up and, or they’ll come down and we’ll kind of collaborate.

Brett Mckay: Yeah. I’d love for Oklahoma to do something like this, this would be great, I have an option like that for my kids. I’m curious, are there any students in your experience of doing this for… I mean, you’ve been doing this for a long time that really stand, like, you might have to be specific, but is there like a story where you’re like, Man, this is just really cool that I saw this person, this kid who went to the exploratory thing, they picked up this thing that they probably never thought they would, they have an interest in this trade and if they’ve made a rewarding career out of it?

Brent McCartney: I see a lot of that. I’ve stayed pretty close with my students. My first year teaching, and I won’t use any names, but my first year teaching at CTECS, I had a student that was much like myself when I was a kid. You could tell he was figuring out how to act, we’ll say, and he Facebook friended me probably two months ago and he owns his own concrete business now. He seems very successful. Married, has a kid. So something like that where who knows where he would’ve been if he didn’t get the skills he needed to work in construction. Now he owns his own business, I mean I think that that one resonates with me and I have a lot of experiences just like that one.

Brett Mckay: So Brent, I think we did a good job of talking big picture what CTECS is about. Is there anything that we haven’t talked about that you think is important that people understand about CTECS? Like what makes it unique or something we haven’t hit on so far in our conversation?

Brent McCartney: Well, one thing is our trade staff. I think that’s pretty unique and I didn’t bring it up prior to this, but in order to be a trade teacher for CTECS, and again this is pretty unique for our district, you have to be a trades person. So, since I’ve been in this role, I’ve probably hired, I don’t know, close to 20 teachers and none of them had to have education on education. So in order to become a teacher for us, you’d have to have, if it’s a license field, the appropriate license, but you have to have a minimum of eight years in the field. So every one of our trade teachers has done this job. So they didn’t go to college to be a carpentry teacher and just learn it theoretically. They were in the field, they were hopefully successful in the field and then kind of made the switch to teaching.

Then once they come to teach for us, there’s 30 credits worth of college that they’ll take, and this is all on how to work with students with special needs, how to create lessons and all that kind of stuff. But they get that on the backend because that trade experience is key. So you have to be able to talk the talk and walk the walk, so it’s really important that they have that. But I think that that’s unique because I think most people attribute a trade teacher to what they took in a typical high school, like you were talking about wood shop or auto. And in many of those cases, that person went and got their master’s in vocational education but did not work in that field. But it’s not like that with us.

Brett Mckay: Is there a lot of interest from people in the trades to teach for CTECS?

Brent McCartney: It ebbs and flows with the industry itself. So I can tell you when the housing crisis in 2008, yeah, there was a lot of people who wanted to be teachers. Right now, probably fewer ’cause there’s just so much work out there. And it’s a little daunting too because it’s a complete shift. If you’re working in the field every day and now you have 18 smiling faces at you, hopefully, every day, it is a shift. But yeah, we don’t have a huge issue filling our positions, but it’s not like all the applicants that you would get for an English or a math position.

Brett Mckay: Well, Brent, this has been a great conversation. Where can people go to learn more about CTECS?

Brent McCartney: So they can go to our website, or they could follow us on Facebook and Instagram at Connecticut Technical Education and Career System, and employers out there or industry reps can reach out to our career center, which is also linked on our website.

Brett Mckay: Fantastic. Well, Brent McCartney, thanks for your time. It’s been a pleasure.

Brent McCartney: Thank you. I appreciate you having me.

Brett Mckay: My guest today is Brent McCartney. He’s an Education Consultant at the Connecticut Technical Education and Career System or CTECS. You can find more information about CTECS, Also check out our show notes at where you’ll the find link to resources, and we delve deeper into this topic.

Well, that wraps up another edition of the AOM podcast. Make sure to check out our website at Where you’ll find our podcast archives as well as thousands of articles that we’ve written over the years about pretty much anything you think of. And if you haven’t done so already, I’d appreciate if you take one minute to give us a review on Apple Podcasts or Spotify, it helps out a lot. If you’ve done that already, thank you. Please consider sharing the show with a friend or family member who you think would get something out of it. As always, thank you for the continued support. Until next time, this is Brett McKay reminding you to not only listen to the AOM podcast, but put what you’ve heard into action.

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