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Are you new to teaching in a career and technical education (CTE) program? If so, you've likely heard the phrase 'CTSO' and are wondering what it means and how it impacts your students.
A career and technical student organization (CTSO) is an extracurricular group for students in CTE pathways to further their knowledge and skills by participating in activities, events, and competitions.
There are currently eight CTSOs that are recognized members of the NCC-CTSO coalition:
Business Professionals of America
Family, Career and Community Leaders of America
Future Business Leaders of America - Phi Beta Lambda
HOSA - Future Health Professionals
National FFA Organization
Technology Student Association
On this page, we’ll take a look at these CTSOs, the purpose of each one, who would benefit from joining, and other detailed information. We’ll also reflect on the impact CTSOs have on the workforce.
First, let’s take a look at career and technical education as a whole to better understand how CTSOs fit into CTE programs.
What Is Career & Technical Education?
Career and technical education is the practice of teaching specific career skills to students in middle school, high school, and post-secondary institutions.
CTE is made up of 16 career clusters which each related to careers in specific industries.
Overall, students who enter a CTE program are gaining knowledge and hands-on skill experience to prepare them for careers that they otherwise couldn’t pursue.
The 8 Career and Technical Student Organizations
Previously we listed the eight national CTSOs authorized by the National Coordinating Council for Career and Technical Student Organizations (NCC-CTSO) according to their membership criteria.
A key factor of being an authorized CTSO is that the organization must specifically relate to one or more of the 16 national career clusters. That being said, some CTSOs only apply to one career cluster, while others include students from many clusters.
There are more than 2 million student members combined across these organizations. That means CTSOs have a huge impact on the lives of people who will enter the workforce, ultimately helping to fill the increasing need for skilled workers.
To get an idea of how the CTSOs work, let’s take a look at each one.
Overall, BPA has more than 45,000 student members in 1,800 chapters across 25 states and Puerto Rico.
The BPA has activities and programs that support skill-building as well as competitive events to measure those skills. The most impactful program provided by BPA is the Workplace Skills Assessment Program (WSAP), which consists of more than 90 competitive events at regional, state, and national levels.
The biggest event for students in BPA is the National Leadership Conference (BPA NLC). Every year, thousands of students travel from across the country to meet up at this event.
The BPA describes the NLC as “four exciting days of competitions, leadership developments, workshops, national officer elections, fun tours, and much more.”
DECA is a CTSO that helps students develop college and career readiness skills. Specifically, DECA is focused on preparing students for careers in four clusters:
DECA provides many ways for students to develop and showcase these critical skills, including “challenges,” competitive events, school-based enterprises, educational conferences, and more.
Something that makes DECA unique is that it has gone international. There are more than 177,000 members in 3,400 chapters across all 50 states plus chapters in other countries such as Canada and Germany!
3. Family, Career and Community Leaders of America
The FCCLA states that it “engages students through career exploration and leadership development” while building skills related to careers in Family and Consumer Sciences. Though that may seem generalized, the FCCLA is a great CTSO for students in three clusters:
Education & Training
Hospitality & Tourism
There are more than 4,200 FCCLA chapters across 51 states and territories with more than 155,000 members.
The FCCLA has many events and meetings for members and advisors to connect with others. The largest event held is the FCCLA National Leadership Conference. At the conference, students can attend workshops, leadership sessions, and participate in competitive events.
4. Future Business Leaders of America - Phi Beta Lambda
While there are a number of conferences that members of FBLA-PBL can attend, the National Leadership Conference is the largest. At the conference, students can meet up with other members, attend workshops, and partake in competitive events.
HOSA is one of the only CTSOs that has officially become international. There are more than 260,000 members in upwards of 5,200 chapters across all 50 states and a handful of other countries.
The mission of HOSA and its’ members is to “promote career opportunities in the health care industry and to enhance the delivery of quality health care to all people.”
This is accomplished by HOSA providing members with opportunities for:
Practicing and honing hands-on skills
Connecting with healthcare professionals and potential employers
Competing in events to demonstrate their skills
Taking on leadership roles in the organization
All of this comes together at the annual International Leadership Conference (ILC). Students who attend the ILC can attend sessions and workshops, check out exhibits, compete in events on various skills, and ultimately connect with other future health care professionals!
6. National FFA Organization
The National FFA Organization (FFA) was previously known as Future Farmers of America and is dedicated to preparing students for careers in the Agriculture, Food, & Natural Resources cluster.
The FFA is made up of 8,817 chapters across all 50 states and Puerto Rico with a total membership at more than 730,000.
The overarching vision of FFA is to “grow leaders, build communities, and strengthen agriculture.”
The FFA focuses on more than just hands-on skills needed in the agricultural industry. Students in FFA also develop skills like leadership and communication that any employee would need.
In order to achieve those goals, the organization provides members with experiences to grow their knowledge and skills. These experiences include local chapter activities, competitive events, service projects, and the annual convention.
The National FFA Convention & Expo is described as “one of the largest student conventions in the world with a mission to develop, educate, and inspire.” Students who attend will have opportunities to meet up with other members, watch motivational speakers, attend skills workshops, and ultimately learn even more about their future careers.
SkillsUSA is the most versatile of all of the CTSOs. Formerly known as the Vocational Industrial Clubs of America, SkillsUSA is applicable for students in any career cluster or pathway.
This versatility is shown in the numbers, as SkillsUSA has more than 394,000 members and 17,000 chapters across all 50 states.
In order to help members shape these skills, the organization provides leadership training, employability skills curriculum, skills assessments, and various events.
Of all those things, the organization calls the national Program of Work “the heart of SkillsUSA.”
The Program of Work is made up of seven goals, that all chapters are expected to meet:
Ways and means
Ultimately, the program acts as guidelines for each local SkillsUSA chapter to ensure members are gaining all of the skills within the SkillsUSA Framework.
8. Technology Student Association
The Technology Student Association (TSA) is the only CTSO specifically focused on the Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics (STEM) career cluster.
The organization’s mission is to “enhance personal development, leadership, and career opportunities” in those areas. This is accomplished both in and out of schools with a mix of curriculum resources, competitions, and other programs.
Currently TSA has more than 250,000 members in 2,000 chapters in nearly every state. The highlight for members is the chance to compete at state and national events, where they can demonstrate their knowledge and skills in a particular career pathway.
Something unique about TSA is their focus on supporting teachers as well as the student members. Along with the competitions and programs for students, TSA provides curriculum resources and activities that teachers can use to help their students succeed.
So now that we’ve looked at each organization, let’s reflect on how CTSOs impact CTE across the US.
How Do CTSOs Impact CTE and the Workforce?
While each organization caters to different career clusters — ultimately they all accomplish the same thing:
CTSOs give CTE students additional opportunities outside of the classroom to grow and develop skills they will need within their chosen career paths.
These opportunities range from after-school activities and programs to competitive events where students demonstrate their skills.
Also, CTSOs give students ways to network with other students and industry partners to start building professional relationships.
Overall, being part of a CTSO can set students apart from those who aren’t members. Having membership listed on a resume can give someone a leg up over others when applying for a job, especially if they were in a leadership role in the organization!
Want to Overcome Common Challenges in CTE?
In this article, you’ve discovered the eight CTSOs and some of the advantages joining them can have for CTE students. Depending on your course, a CTSO might be exactly what you need to push students to the next level.
But even then, joining a CTSO can only do so much for your students and classroom. Most CTE teachers like you have more complex challenges you need advanced strategies to handle, including satisfying your course standards and engaging your students.
This guide goes in-depth into issues like student engagement, handling technology in the classroom, and more, offering strategies designed to make your class run smoothly and save yourself time in the process: