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5 ways to make career and technical education design more collaborative

July 20, 2022

By Diego Barrera

Bringing the shops forward and turning the hallways into classrooms changes the emphasis at CTE facilities

Today’s career and technical education (CTE) programs combine skills development with rigorous academics. They give students the ability to go straight to the job market for skilled trades and applied sciences or pursue a degree. CTE’s advantages should be well known by now: a feedback loop with the job market, partnerships with industry, ability to earn early college credit, higher graduation rates, and students who see the relevance of their education to a career.

Attitudes toward CTE have changed dramatically with a new awareness about the relationship between hands-on education and technology in the workplace. As a result, comprehensive high schools are adding makerspaces. CTE schools, on the other hand, already have them.

The restaurant serves the community and acts as a learning lab for students at Lewisville Technology, Exploration & Career Center West.

CTE’s increasing relevance

CTE is increasingly relevant to the changing workforce. Traditional trades (HVAC or plumbing) are becoming more technology intensive, while careers such as environmental tech, biotech, dental assisting, and medical assisting require STEM backgrounds. CTE’s relevance will grow. Baby boomers in skilled trades are retiring, technology is advancing, and hybrid jobs are emerging that require technical know-how and hands-on experience.

CTE demand

With CTE’s hands-on, technical education relevant to a broader range of careers, we’re seeing more gender diversity in CTE enrollment. Because its programs offer access to stable careers in skilled industries (but can also be a step toward a degree) demand for CTE is particularly high in gateway cities.

However, experts say that careers of the new future won’t simply be technologically driven; they’ll be highly collaborative. And existing CTE centers aren’t necessarily encouraging collaboration—while these programs may put students in different programs under one roof, they may never meet. Instead, they stick to the pathways and specialized classes they require. We must look for opportunities to create collaboration between CTE programs that will benefit future professionals.

The gallery is the heart of the CTE center at Lewisville TECC-W. It brings together students from diverse programs to collaborate and learn from each other.  

At the new Technology, Exploration & Career Center West (TECC-W), the second career center Stantec has designed for the Lewisville Independent School District in Texas, we created CTE space with the goal of promoting true collaboration between its diverse programs to enrich the learning experience for all its students.

Here are five ways we recently approached CTE learning space differently to further collaboration.

1. Bring the shops and labs to the front

As much as we say CTE programs are important, how often do schools bring them forward and showcase them in design? The circulation at CTE centers is often meandering, with the shops and labs pushed to the back. Perhaps unintentionally, this suggests these spaces aren’t important. Practically speaking, however, there’s an explanation for this practice. These gear-heavy spaces are constructed differently and are difficult to integrate alongside typical classrooms and lecture halls.

We chose to be very purposeful and make sure that the tech shops were front and center and alongside lecture rooms at TECC-W. We took on a design challenge in building masonry boxes and intertwining those with the steel construction in the CTE center so that any two distinct programs can be located prominently together with common space in between. This enabled us to bring the shops and labs forward, make them as notable as classrooms, and simplify the circulation between them.

So instead of typical meandering circulation, we created a big gallery for collaboration between two spaces, setting the stage for interaction between the two programs.

2. Turn the halls into classrooms

Even though students are studying for specific trade or professional programs, the careers they will encounter are at the intersection of these programs. They are hybrid careers. Exposure beyond a student’s selected trade is a benefit. We want to give them a space to collaborate in between and encourage collaboration between these two sides. So instead of typical meandering circulation, we created a big gallery for collaboration between two spaces, setting the stage for interaction between the two programs.

We took what would usually be circulation and transformed it into learning and collaboration space.

3. Make the labs visible and transparent

We brought the labs forward, connected them to the gallery, and fronted it with glass. This puts the programs and activity on display for all the students. They can literally drive a car from the shop and show it off in the gallery.

4. Create space for hybrid learning

At Technology, Exploration & Career Center East, a pre-function space we designed as a teacher-training area emerged as the go-to space for hybrid learning—where healthcare and cosmetology students might come together for a lecture and discussion, for example. We took the spirit of this space and applied it to the gallery at TECC-W, making it a dedicated space for collaboration.

There’s no other place where these kinds of divergent programs are found under one roof. Career-focused programs and trades programs come together in the gallery. Creating that collaboration is an opportunity that we’re trying to leverage.

TECC-W prepares students for the careers in demand today and forecasts the careers of the future through the intentional collaboration of its diverse programs. 

5. Make it responsive to careers

With the career landscape changing rapidly, we needed to anticipate what programs would be in demand on opening day.

“Each year, as we plan our CTE offerings, we look at the careers that will be in demand when our current sixth grade classes graduate,” TECC-W director Adrian Moreno tells us. Lewisville ISD partners with InterLink North Central Texas to project and anticipate the careers that will be in future demand. And Lewisville ISD works with its CTE advisory board to understand which programs it should include in its CTE centers. We partnered with these groups in designing this center, hosting an intense workshop with teachers, administrators, partners, and our entire design team to account for the complex mix of equipment and technologies the new programs would require.

TECC-W replaces an aging facility that was past its useful life and the new building fits each program space with the latest technology and is designed for the latest practices. It allows TECC-W the opportunity to be dynamic and adjust to a changing job market.

Collaboration—between teachers, administrators, business partners, and our integrated team—drove the success of TECC-W. Adrian Moreno says “having our teachers, business partners, and Stantec’s integrated team work together allowed us to create spaces that fit each program’s needs, and it allowed those teachers to reinvent their programs and incorporate future technologies.”

  • Diego Barrera

    Diego has more than a decade of experience bringing architecture and education together.

    Contact Diego
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