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New course partners with community colleges to address shortage of career and tech-ed teachers

A young man in a white sweatshirt, black vest, and clear safety classes smiles at the camera as he holds a circular saw.
Rob Hill
Student Creedon Newell practices teaching construction skills under the mentorship of Josh Michelena at Sheridan College as part of the University of Wyoming's CTE Bridge Introductory Course.

Conversations around the state’s energy future often focus on opportunities for job development in sectors like wind, coal and nuclear. But what happens when there aren’t enough people to teach skills like construction or welding in the first place?

This semester, the University of Wyoming launched a new course to try and address a shortage of career and technical education (CTE) teachers in the state. The introductory program is a collaboration with seven community colleges throughout the state and gives students a peek into the world of teaching those hands-on skills to high schoolers.

Dr. Jenna Shim, interim Dean at UW’s College of Education, said more CTE teachers will lead to more skilled trade workers, which will in turn create a big ripple effect throughout Wyoming.

“We’re supporting CTE conditions in which Wyoming citizens can find fulfilling careers, stay in the state, and support and enhance local businesses and industries in meeting their workforce needs,” she said.

According to a 2020 report from the Wyoming Department of Education, the average age of existing CTE teachers in Wyoming at the time was 54, a sharp contrast to 46, the average age of CTE teachers nationwide in 2023.

More CTE teaching positions at high schools will open up as that population continues to age and eventually retire. Dr. Shim said she’s already seen the impacts of that demographic change on the ground.

“I visited a school district in Encampment and they shared that they had to close their CTE program because they simply can’t find a teacher,” she said. “And in Thermopolis, one teacher whose expertise is in welding shared with me that now he’s teaching culinary classes.”

Rob Hill is the instructor of the new course and is also the CTE consultant for UW. He said CTE programs have long been a cornerstone in many Wyoming communities, but the rise of digital technology changed the playing field.

“We saw technical education, especially industrial, de-emphasized as we went into the computer age. We saw a lot of our shops and facilities get kind of mothballed,” he said.

But despite those shifts and closures, Hill said the need for a workforce with skills in fields like welding and construction hasn’t gone away.

“Our students tend to be very engaged with the programs and they're in high demand by our industry partners. A skilled workforce is both critical to our infrastructure and any diversification or emerging technology needs the state may have,” he said.

The bridge course combines online learning with real-time mentorship, which allows students to stay close to home as they explore a potential new career path. Each student is paired with a community college mentor as well as a high school CTE teacher, who helps students see the job in real time.

“As our teachers age out, we lose the opportunity for them to work within their local schools with younger teachers to help them. We want teachers that are entering local districts to have the opportunity to work with veteran teachers during that critical stage of early, early career development,” he said.

So far, the program has drawn a diverse group of students, including veterans, community college instructors and K-12 paraprofessionals. The course will continue to run in the upcoming summer and fall semesters, and students have the option to pursue higher education with degrees like UW’s Bachelor of Applied Science in Career and Technical Education.

Hannah Habermann is the rural and tribal reporter for Wyoming Public Radio. She has a degree in Environmental Studies and Non-Fiction Writing from Middlebury College and was the co-creator of the podcast Yonder Lies: Unpacking the Myths of Jackson Hole. Hannah also received the Pattie Layser Greater Yellowstone Creative Writing & Journalism Fellowship from the Wyoming Arts Council in 2021 and has taught backpacking and climbing courses throughout the West.