Career and technical education (CTE) is on the rise across North Carolina. With the need for skilled workers increasing, CTE programs across the state are growing by leaps and bounds.
At the national level, CTE is made up of 16 career clusters, each with related career pathways.
Every state uses those clusters to shape their own programs, but every state makes a few changes to meet the needs of their workforce.
The 16 CTE career clusters in North Carolina are:
- Agriculture, Food, & Natural Resources
- Architecture & Construction
- Arts, Audio/Video Technology, & Communications
- Business Management & Administration
- Education & Training
- Government & Public Administration
- Health Science
- Hospitality & Tourism
- Human Services
- Information Technology
- Law, Public Safety, Corrections, & Security
- Science, Technology, Engineering, & Mathematics
- Transportation, Distribution, & Logistics
On this page, we’ll go into the details of each career cluster to see how North Carolina approaches CTE in relation to the national level.
To begin, let's look at how CTE works in North Carolina.
North Carolina Career & Technical Education
The North Carolina Department of Public Instruction (NC DPI) strives to provide great CTE programs to students.
The state’s overall mission for CTE is “to empower all students to be successful citizens, workers and leaders in a global economy.”
To achieve this, North Carolina categorizes the career clusters and pathways according to what the state calls “programs of study.”
In total, there are eight programs of study in North Carolina:
- Agricultural Education
- Business, Finance, & Information Technology
- Career Development
- Family & Consumer Sciences
- Health Science
- Marketing & Entrepreneurship
- Technology Engineering & Design
- Trade & Industrial Education
Each program has different course levels, depending how far a student has progressed.
To start, North Carolina offers a number of introductory middle school courses that help students decide which cluster or pathway may interest them.
Once a student has chosen a pathway and entered a program of study, the courses available fall into three categories:
- Foundation Course - a course that provides fundamental knowledge and skills
- Enhancement Course - a course that adds to what a student has learned in a foundation course
- Completer Course - a second or third course in a series that builds on previous courses
In addition to the course options, North Carolina provides students with work-based learning opportunities.
These opportunities are available to students as early as sixth grade and feature three levels -- career awareness, career exploration, and career preparation.
The final piece of the CTE puzzle in North Carolina is the opportunity for students to join a career and technical student organization (CTSO) to further their knowledge and connect with others.
Overall, North Carolina provides structure in all of the CTE courses and programs to ensure all students have an equal level of opportunities.
Now that you know the basics of CTE in North Carolina, let’s get into the career clusters!
1. Agriculture, Food, & Natural Resources
The Agriculture, Food, & Natural Resources (AFNR) cluster in North Carolina is made up of the same seven pathways as the national AFNR career cluster:
- Agribusiness Systems
- Animal Systems
- Environmental Service Systems
- Food Products & Processing Systems
- Natural Resources Systems
- Plant Systems
- Power, Structural, & Technical Systems
The program of study this cluster is associated with is North Carolina’s Agricultural Education program.
There are more than 25 agricultural education courses across middle and high school with an additional 11 related enhancement courses.
In addition to the courses, the NC DPI lists 11 options for credentials and certifications for careers in agriculture.
The CTSO for students in agricultural education is the North Carolina FFA -- the state-specific version of the National FFA Organization.
2. Architecture & Construction
In North Carolina, the Architecture & Construction career cluster has the same three pathways as the national cluster:
Depending on the career path in architecture and construction a student chooses, they will either enter into the Family & Consumer Sciences (FCS) or Trade & Industrial Education program of study.
In total there are more than 25 courses in the Architecture & Construction pathway, plus 13 related enhancement courses.
Because there is no CTSO specific to this career cluster, the most relevant one for students to join is SkillsUSA North Carolina.
3. Arts, Audio/Video Technology, & Communications
The North Carolina Arts, Audio/Video Technology, & Communications (AAVTC) cluster is similar to the national career cluster, but with one fewer pathway:
- Journalism & Broadcasting
- Performing Arts
- Printing Technology
- Visual Arts
There are more than 20 courses in the AAVTC cluster with an additional 10 enhancement courses.
Because the career pathways within this cluster are so diverse, depending on which career they choose a student could enter into one of four programs of study:
- Technology Engineering & Design
- Family & Consumer Sciences Education
- Marketing & Entrepreneurship
- Trade & Industrial Education
The CTSOs most related to careers in the AAVTC cluster are SkillsUSA North Carolina and the North Carolina Technology Student Association (NC-TSA).
4. Business Management & Administration
The Business Management & Administration career cluster in North Carolina is closely aligned with the national cluster. It’s made up of the same five career pathways:
- Administrative Support
- Business Information Management
- General Management
- Human Resources Management
- Operations Management
Students who choose one of these pathways will enter into the Business, Finance, & Information Technology Education program of study.
There are a total of 20 courses in the Business Management & Administration cluster, with 8 related enhancement courses.
In terms of a CTSO, students in this cluster have an opportunity to join the North Carolina FBLA.
5. Education & Training
The North Carolina Education & Training career cluster is aligned to the national cluster and has the same three pathways:
- Administration & Administrative Support
- Professional Support Services
Students following these pathways will enter into the Family & Consumer Sciences Education program of study.
There are no statewide course options listed for this career cluster, but the NC DPI notes that local education agencies (LEAs) may develop their own courses.
The most relevant CTSO for students in this cluster is the North Carolina Family, Career, and Community Leaders of America (NC FCCLA) -- the state version of the national CTSO.
Like many other clusters, the North Carolina Finance career cluster is directly aligned to the national one. Students in this cluster can choose from these five pathways:
- Banking Services
- Business Finance
- Securities & Investments
The Finance cluster is part of the Business, Finance, & Information Technology program of study.
Students in the cluster can choose from 15 courses across middle and high school with 11 additional enhancement courses.
For finance students interested in joining a CTSO, the NC DPI suggests the North Carolina FBLA.
7. Government & Public Administration
In North Carolina the Government & Public Administration career cluster differs slightly from the national one. While the national version of this cluster has seven pathways, North Carolina has six:
- National Security
- Public Management & Administration
- Revenue & Taxation
The Government & Public Administration career cluster is not part of a particular program of study in North Carolina.
In addition, there are no statewide course options, but like the Education & Training cluster, LEAs can choose to develop their own courses.
Currently there is no CTSO available for students in the Government & Public Administration cluster.
8. Health Science
The Health Science career cluster is one of the most structured clusters in North Carolina. It directly aligns with the national health science career cluster and is made up of the same five pathways:
- Biotechnology Research & Development
- Diagnostic Services
- Health Informatics
- Support Services
- Therapeutic Services
The North Carolina program of study for students in this cluster is Health Science education.
In total there are more than 20 health science courses across middle and high school, plus 16 related enhancement courses.
In addition to the courses, the NC DPI highlights two certification options -- Nurse Aide I and Pharmacy Technician.
The CTSO for the Health Science cluster is North Carolina HOSA, which is the state-specific version of the national HOSA-Future Health Professionals organization.
9. Hospitality & Tourism
In North Carolina, the Hospitality & Tourism career cluster has the same number of pathways as the national cluster:
- Recreation, Amusements, & Attractions
- Restaurants & Food/Beverage Services
- Travel & Tourism
Depending on which pathway a student chooses, they will enter into one of two programs of study: Marketing & Entrepreneurship or Family & Consumer Sciences.
The Hospitality & Tourism cluster has 20 courses across middle and high school, with 11 additional enhancement courses.
While there is no CTSO specific to this career cluster, students are encouraged to join the NC FCCLA.
10. Human Services
Like many other clusters, North Carolina’s Human Services career cluster directly aligns with the national version.
The Human Services career cluster is focused on preparing students for careers in five pathways:
- Consumer Services
- Counseling & Mental Health Services
- Early Childhood Development & Services
- Family & Community Services
- Personal Care Services
The program of study that this cluster falls under is Family & Consumer Sciences education.
In total this cluster has nine courses across middle and high school with nine optional enhancement courses.
The CTSO suggested for students interested in careers in human services is the NC FCCLA.
11. Information Technology
The Information Technology (IT) career cluster in North Carolina is very similar to the national cluster. The cluster is made up of four career pathways:
- Information Support & Services
- Network Systems
- Programming & Software Development
- Web & Digital Communications
Depending on which IT pathway a student chooses, they will enter one of two programs of study: Business, Finance, & Information Technology education or Trade & Industrial education.
Overall there are more than 30 IT courses available for middle and high school students with 7 additional enhancement courses.
The most relevant CTSO for students in the IT cluster is SkillsUSA North Carolina.
12. Law, Public Safety, Corrections, & Security
The North Carolina Law, Public Safety, Corrections, & Security (LPSCS) career cluster directly aligns with the national cluster and is made up of five pathways:
- Correction Services
- Emergency & Fire Management Services
- Law Enforcement Services
- Legal Services
- Security & Protective Services
The program of study the LPSCS cluster falls under is Trade & Industrial education.
There are more than 10 courses in middle and high school for the LPSCS cluster, with 11 enhancement course options.
The NC DPI lists the most relevant CTSO for this cluster as SkillsUSA North Carolina.
The North Carolina Manufacturing career cluster strays from the national Manufacturing cluster.
Rather than six career pathways, North Carolina lists four:
- Maintenance, Installation, & Repair
- Manufacturing Production Process Development
- Quality Assurance
Based on the career pathway they choose, students will either enter the Family & Consumer Sciences program of study or the Trade & Industrial education program of study.
The Manufacturing cluster has more than 25 courses with 11 related enhancement courses to choose.
Students in the Manufacturing cluster can join the SkillsUSA North Carolina CTSO.
The Marketing career cluster in North Carolina has the same five career pathways as the national cluster:
- Marketing Communications
- Marketing Management
- Marketing Research
- Professional Sales
Students in this career cluster will enter the North Carolina Marketing & Entrepreneurship program of study.
There are more than 15 marketing courses available, plus 11 related enhancement courses.
Students interested in marketing careers should join NC DECA -- the CTSO specifically dedicated to the Marketing & Entrepreneurship program.
15. Science, Technology, Engineering, & Mathematics
The North Carolina Science, Technology, Engineering, & Mathematics (STEM) cluster directly aligns with the national version. STEM is made up of two distinct pathways:
- Engineering & Technology
- Science & Mathematics
The STEM cluster in North Carolina is part of the Technology Engineering and Design program of study.
There are more than 25 STEM courses to choose from, with an additional 11 enhancement courses.
The CTSO for students in the STEM cluster is the NC-TSA.
16. Transportation, Distribution, & Logistics
In North Carolina, the Transportation, Distribution, & Logistics (TDL) differs slightly from the national cluster. Rather than the seven national career pathways, North Carolina only has five:
- Facility & Mobile Equipment Maintenance
- Logistics Planning & Management Services
- Sales & Services
- Transportation Operations
- Transportation Systems / Infrastructure Planning
Depending on the pathway, a student in the TDL cluster will enter either the Marketing & Entrepreneurship program of study or the Trade & Industrial education program of study.
Overall there are more than 15 TDL courses, plus 10 enhancement course options.
The CTSO suggested by the NC DPI for students in this cluster is SkillsUSA North Carolina.
Now that we’ve gone over the 16 North Carolina career clusters, it’s time to dive into the next big thing in North Carolina CTE -- digital curriculum.