Strengthening Pathways from Education to the Workforce

Perkins V, the Strengthening Career and Technical Education Act for the 21st Century marked a renewed commitment of $1.3 billion annually for Career and Technical Education (CTE) in our nation’s high schools. Perkins V rectifies major flaws in previous versions of this bill, by linking secondary and post-secondary educational settings. The result allows for continuity in educational training, and, therefore, bridging pathways toward a successful career.

Unlike Perkins IV, Perkins V is clearly is attentive to the demands of today’s workforce. Its requirements include groundbreaking changes that have an immediate impact on educators, postsecondary education, employers, community-based organizations, and other stakeholders who strive to improve the education and work outcomes for historically underserved and underrepresented students. One shift in priorities is the focus on regional rather than school-centered assessments. With this new focus, federal and state funding acknowledges the importance of integrating education, the economy, and the workplace into the fabric of high-quality CTE programs that prepare students for high-demand jobs.

While these changes are subtle shifts in priorities and partnerships, the most visible change in Perkins V is its requirement that states compile a Comprehensive Local Needs Assessment (CLNA) at least every two years. The CLNA is developed by educators, employers, and regional economic planners to align CTE programs offered in high schools with pathways to careers. The result is that CTE program planning, resource utilization, and student learning platforms are relevant to the current and projected demands of the workplace. Once again demonstrating the need to focus on a broader scope than stand-alone CTE program. To help states move past stand-alone program development, Perkins V includes reserve funding for programs that prepare students for high-wage/high-skill jobs, and in-demand occupations (Comprehensive Local Needs, 2020).

Thus, while descriptions of Perkins V application requirements and funding is clearly a change from previous funding iterations for CTE, its importance is as a new paradigm for building CTE programs that match the growth and direction of career pathways in individual regions of a state and the country.

Building Relevant CTE Programs

Accountability and Measures: Data-informed decision-making takes on new meaning with Perkins V funding requirements. Now, rather than use dictated accountability measures to evaluate program outcomes, states can establishes its own accountability measures to reflect the realities of their workplaces. States can now give non-educational partners a voice in CTE planning processes through scheduled public comment and review to gather feedback on performance indicators, needs assessments, workplace demands, work-based learning, and coordination of funding. States now apply accountability measures to student CTE concentrators—i.e., those middle- and high-school students with at least two CTE courses, or those post-secondary students with 12 credits or more in a program (Alliance for Excellent Education, 2018). In this way, data can become a reliable and valid indicator of program quality. Again, this change represents stronger measures of how CTE impacts multiple sectors when fully supported locally, regionally, and statewide. 

Definitions of CTE concentrators, accurate gathering of data, and clear accountability—coupled with mechanisms to encourage cross-state research initiatives and meta-analyses—make Perkins V valuable in sustaining and scaling best practices in CTE. The ease in which CTE practitioners, researchers, and stakeholders, can access information and data submitted by States in their Perkins V State plans, and Consolidated Annual Reports (CARs) helps interested parties understand each State’s vision, goals, and priorities for CTE, as well as explore the outcomes for students who concentrate in CTE programs.  (Perkins Collaborative Resource Network, 2021).

Support for Equity:  For the first time, federal CTE funding directly addresses monitoring and improving performance of historically underserved students—focusing on students of color, those from low-income households, English language learners, and students with disabilities. This monumental change stands up to the inequities and barriers erected for these underserved students in the past. Under Perkins V, data must be disaggregated on the performance of students by race, ethnicity, gender, special population categories, and by career clusters (Alliance for Excellent Education, 2018).  With these data available, states can divide Perkins allocations within states based upon local needs. States have the option of reserving up to 15% of local funds for distribution to rural areas, localities with a high percentage of CTE students, and areas with performance gaps between groups.

Work-based learning (WBL): Perkins V includes the first formal federal definition of WBL. This opens the door for a multitude of meaningful activities, experiences, and success measures to be considered “work-based.” States can use leadership funds to form state partnerships for high-school students to earn a postsecondary credential; credit toward a credential through participation in dual or concurrent enrollment programs; or enrollment in early college high schools (Alliance for Excellent Education 2018). More than half of the states are currently counting work-based learning in their accountability systems, allowing them to strengthen meaningful, hands-on pathways to the workforce (Koch, 2021).

COVID-19: COVID-19 posed challenges to comply with State plans under Perkins V, through the lack of access to in-person CTE training. Built into Perkins V was the opportunity to request a revision in targets, based on unanticipated circumstances, or improvements, as seen in data or measurements. This flexibility in Perkins V proved to be a strength by allowing states to reassess data and make adjustments as a result of the pandemic, which was especially critical for work-based learning and post-program (O’Hare & Beattie, 2021).

NS4ed is an educational research and development company dedicated to negotiating services for schools, educators, and private institutions. Since the release of Perkins V guidelines in 2018, NS4ed has partnered with multiple states to support their development of their CLNAs. Reflecting its commitment to 21st century learners and career preparation, NS4ed emphasizes communication, coordination, and education/economy/workplace partnerships to ensure students are ready for the workplace. Progressive initiatives such as the Perkins V funding has helped to open CTE career pathways from school to work, enabling students to realize successful, lifelong careers. Learn how to leverage NS4ed’s expertise to support your local needs assessment to strengthen  your CTE programs. 


Alliance for Excellent Education (2018, September). Perkins career and technical primer: What’s new?

Comprehensive Local Needs Assessment Final Report (2020, April). 

Koch, C. (2021, January 27) The state of CTE: Work-based learning in Perkins V state plans. 

O’Hare, J.P., & Beattie, JU. (2021, March 23). State education department proposes revisions to Perkins V plan to address Covid-related impact on career and technical education. 

Perkins Collaborative Resource Network. (2021).

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