Introduction: Efforts by Federal Agencies to Develop Occupational Curriculum for Entry-Level Workers (2004)
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One of the continual challenges facing secondary and postsecondary vocational educators today is the development of relevant curriculum for their programs. This is especially true in many of the newly-emerging occupational areas of information and computer technology. The ability to offer up-to-date curriculum becomes a critical component for determining the success of these programs at winning employment for the students.

However, the curriculum challenge is not simply concentrated on the task of keeping up with changes in technology. With the growing recognition that vocational education should prepare students not just for entry-level work, but for career pathways, it is important to develop courses and programs that enable students to understand how the technology is used within the particular occupational context. Computer applications are found in almost all occupations, but even similar computer devices are used very differently. For example, knowledge of a Geographic Positioning System (GPS) as used by civil engineers making technical changes in the design of a highway is very different than the use of GPS by farmers in determining precision agriculture production. In both cases, preparation of a student involves not only mastery of the technology, but also knowledge of how it might be used in specific occupations.

If being both "technically up-to-date" and providing "context" for particular career pathways matter, where do vocational administrators turn for the expertise? Certainly good instructors ultimately base the curriculum upon the specific needs of the industry or employers. However, at the secondary level, it is difficult at best for vocational instructors and administrators to cultivate these ties. In many cases the instructors themselves are unfamiliar with the new or emerging technology and the specific context in which it is used.

The federal government has attempted to respond to the need for relevant occupational curriculum in a number of ways. The work of the National Skill Standards Board (NSSB) has been to develop and disseminate industry-based skill standards. While these standards are not curriculum, they provide a road map on which to construct curriculum. The Office of Vocational and Adult Education (OVAE) provided initial support for state vocational education agencies to jointly develop curriculum focused around career clusters.

However, there may be other federal sources for vocational curriculum. Many of the major agencies of the federal government are in need of specialized skills, often similar to skills needs in the private sector, and some introduce specialized training programs for these occupations. In addition through carrying out their legislative mission, the agencies interact with the private economic sector and are often knowledgeable about the current and future workforce demands within a key occupational area. For example, it is logical that the Federal Aviation Agency would assume the task of delineating the skills of airport security staff, and perhaps would even develop the curriculum that could train staff to achieve proficiency in performing these tasks. The Department of Defense, a large employer with a workforce engaged in diverse tasks, may find it worthwhile to develop curriculum and course programs to train staff—programs that would have applications outside of the armed services.

The purpose of this brief paper is to review the sources of vocational curriculum—instruction that provides the skills necessary for individuals to perform entry-level jobs at the sub-baccalaureate level—that may be available from selected federal agencies other than OVAE. The research method relied on an investigation of the Web sites of specific agencies. The paper outlines the relevant content of these sites, as well as some challenges policymakers and practitioners may face in accessing the available curricula.

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Last Modified: 09/23/2004