Zirkle & Connors/Career and Technical Student Organizations 15
The Contribution of Career and Technical
Student Organizations (CTSO) to the
Development and Assessment of Workplace
Skills and Knowledge: A Literature Review
James J. Connors
Ohio State University
Career and Technical Student Organizations (CTSOs), formerly
referred to as vocational student organizations (VSO) have been a part
of career and technical education (formerly vocational education) since
the passage of the Smith-Hughes Act of 1917. These organizations have
developed numerous activities to assist their members in acquiring job-
related technical skills, leadership skills and academic knowledge.
However, unlike other areas of career and technical education, little
research exists to support the claims of career and technical student
organizations of the benefits to their members. This integrative research
review offers an overview of the research conducted thus far on the
contributions of career and technical student organizations (CTSO) to
the development and assessment of workplace skills and knowledge and
provides direction for future research.
Career and technical student organizations have been a part of
career and technical education since the passage of the Smith-Hughes
Act of 1917. Over the course of the last 86 years, career and technical
student organizations have developed numerous activities, such as skills
contests, community service and leadership development, to benefit their
members. These activities are usually developed to improve the
Author’s note: The terms “vocational student organization” (VSO) and “career
technical student organization” (CTSO) are used interchangeably in this
document, dependent upon the time frame that is being described. In addition,
the names for the various student organizations reflect the name at the time the
reference is cited.
Workforce Education Forum, Vol. 30, No. 2, pp. 15–26.
16 Workforce Education Forum, Fall 2003
members’ leadership, personal characteristics or employability skills.
However, unlike other areas of career and technical education, little
research exists to support the claims of career and technical student
organizations of the benefits to their members. In an address to the
National Center for Research in Vocational Education in 1983, Edwin
Miller, President of the Future Business Leaders of America-Phi Beta
Lambda was asked if he knew of any studies that had evaluated the
effects of career and technical student organizations. He responded by
stating, “Unfortunately, there have not been any, to my knowledge. I
have seen a few dissertations addressing the topic, but I frankly feel that
they have fallen short. If there are such evaluations and anybody knows
about them, I would certainly welcome them...” (p. 7).
In an article in The Agricultural Education Magazine (“Through
Rose Colored Glasses,” 1999) the anonymous author states “We assert
that the FFA develops premier leadership, personal growth, and career
success.” But does it really? Just because we say it does, doesn’t
necessarily mean it really does” (p. 27). After citing several studies, the
author concludes “...there is virtually no solid evidence to support the
contention that FFA develops leadership” (p. 27). In a study for the
National Center for Research in Vocational Education, Camp, Jackson,
Buser and Baldwin (2000) stated “adequate research to address the
impact and benefits of *VSOs is simply not available” (p. iv).
The value of career and technical student organizations has been
questioned by several scholars (Camp, 2000; Malone, 1983). Writing
about Myths and Realities: Youth Organizations, Lankard (1996) stated
“Although participation in these organizations has been associated with
the development of positive work attitudes and leadership skills, it is
unclear the extent to which participation in career and technical student
organizations contributes to participants’ career and occupational
development” (p. 1).
Statement of the Research Problem
Determining if members of career and technical education student
organizations have acquired desired outcomes is no easy task. Career
and technical student organizations have been encouraged to develop
procedures for authentically assessing the outcomes of participation in
their leadership and skill development activities. In an article by Weber
and Stewart (2001), the authors stated “There is a swelling interest in
authentic assessment, stemming from perceived inadequacy of the
traditional methods of measuring students’ knowledge” (p. 14).
Zirkle & Connors/Career and Technical Student Organizations 17
Authentic assessment of outcomes was also addressed in the SCANS
report. Khattri, Reeve, and Kane (1998) (as cited in Custer, Schell,
McAlister,, Scott, & Hoepfl,, 2000) wrote, “The SCANS commission
envisioned setting proficiency levels for SCANS competencies and
developing an associated assessment system based on demonstrating
SCANS competencies through applied, contextualized problems”
(p. 51). Custer, et al. (2000), through examination of previous works
(Madaus & O’Dwyer, 1999; Wildavsky, 1999) went on to state:
The effectiveness of using testing to implement educational
standards and ensure accountability for outcomes is yet to be
determined. Although there continues to be considerable political
and popular support for the concept of accountability through
standards and assessment, significant technical, political, and
logistical problems remain. (p. 51).
Because there is scarce evidence that career and technical student
organization members develop leadership, technical or employability
skills as a result of their participation in CTSO activities, the questions
remain about the benefits of career and technical student organizations.
The problem, a lack of relevant data related to the development and
assessment of workplace skills and knowledge through involvement in
CTSO’s, was the focus of this research review. The review located and
organized relevant studies examining this issue, with the goal of
providing direction for further research.
Research Methods and Procedures
The methodology for this study was an integrative research review
(Cooper, 1989). The study sought to summarize past research with
respect to the effectiveness of CTSO’s in the development of student
knowledge and skills, with the goal of providing new directions for
In conducting this literature review, the researchers used a variety
of methods. CTSO websites were searched for documents related to the
development and assessment of workplace skills. Various databases were
searched, including ERIC, Dissertation Abstracts, Education Abstracts,
and PsychINFO. Professional journals and texts were also examined for
information and data relative to the topic. Conference proceedings were
also reviewed. Relevant information and studies were categorized for
relevance and the findings were summarized.
18 Workforce Education Forum, Fall 2003
Results of the Related Literature Search
Career and Technical Student Organizations (CTSO) are essential
to quality programs in career and technical education (Scott & Sarkees-
Wircenski, 2001). These organizations provide students with individual,
cooperative and competitive activities designed to expand leadership and
job-related skills (Gordon, 2003). Since 1928, when the first
organization was formed (Future Farmers of America, or FFA), students
have taken part in these activities at local, state, national and
international arenas. There are currently eight career and technical
student organizations at the secondary level recognized by the U.S.
Department of Education.
Support for CTSOs is derived from their role in developing the
career, leadership and personal development of students (Gordon, 2003).
The emphasis on leadership is evidenced through the mission statements
of all of the organizations (BPA, 2003; FBLA, 2003; FCCLA, 2003;
FFA, 2003; HOSA, 2003; SkillsUSA-VICA, 2003, TSA, 2003). These
skills are developed through chapter activities such as running for office,
officer training and community service participation.
Career and Technical Student Organizations generally are formed
into chapters at the local level with advisors and sponsors, with support
from state departments of education in the form of state advisors, with
administrative and financial assistance (Gordon, 2003). The national
offices listed in Table 1 provide policy and curriculum development
assistance to the state and local units. State departments of education
support CTSOs through administrative and financial assistance with
contests, meetings and conferences. Many state departments of
education designate state advisors for each CTSO and these individuals
interact with the local chapters on various activities.
Technical skills competitive events serve to develop job-related
competencies. Many of these events integrate academic knowledge into
industry developed problem scenarios. The competitive events, in
addition to developing skills, provide recognition to participants and
serve to ensure business and industry involvement in career and
technical education programs.
In one of the earliest studies conducted on career and technical
student organizations, Collins (1977) surveyed VSO state directors,
advisors, and members. Collins concluded “a very substantial majority
of all students surveyed considered vocational student organizations as
providing them with substantial benefits, aid them in their development
toward being well rounded members of society” (p. 77). Some of the
Zirkle & Connors/Career and Technical Student Organizations 19
Career and Technical Student Organizations at the Secondary Level
Current Name Year Education
CTSO Former Name(s) Est’d Area Address
BPA Business Professionals 1966 Business BPA
of America; Education 5454 Cleveland Avenue
Vocational Office Columbus, OH 43231
Education Clubs of America
DECA Distributive Education 1947 Marketing DECA Inc.
Clubs of America Education 1908 Association Drive
Reston, VA 20191
FBLA Future Business Leaders 1940 Business FBLA
of America Education 1912 Association Drive
Reston, VA 20191
FCCLA Family, Career and 1945 Family and FCCLA
Community Leaders of America; Consumer 1910 Association Drive
Future Homemakers of America Sciences Reston, VA 20191
– Home Economics Related
Future Homemakers of America
FFA FFA; 1928 Agricultural National FFA Center
Future Farmers of America Education P.O. Box 68960
6060 FFA Drive
HOSA Health Occupations 1976 Health National HOSA
Students of America Education 6021 Morriss Road
Flower Mound, TX
Skills SkillsUSA-VICA; 1965 Trade, SkillsUSA-VICA
USA- Vocational Industrial Industrial P.O. Box 3000
VICA Clubs of America and Health Leesburg, VA
TSA Technology Students 1965 Technology TSA
of America; Education 1914 Association Drive
American Industrial Reston, VA 20191
Arts Student Association
20 Workforce Education Forum, Fall 2003
characteristics identified by VSO members include teamwork, decision-
making, competition, community awareness, and social development.
Clark (1978) found that leadershipability of students increased with
participation in the DECA organization. Other researchers found similar
results when they investigated the Future Homemakers of America
(FHA) (White, 1982), Vocational Industrial Clubs of America (VICA)
(Smith, 1984 as cited in Wingenbach & Kahler, 1997) and the Future
Business Leaders of America FBLA) (Spicer, 1983). Townsend and
Carter (1983) found that FFA participation was positively correlated
with leadership traits of 12th grade agricultural education students in
In a study of sophomore CTSO members, Camp, Navaratnum, and
Jeffreys 1987) found that participation in career and technical student
organizations produced a positive contribution to student achievement as
measured by student grades. Camp (1990) found that academic
achievement by students is enhanced by participation in extracurricular
activities. Waters, Fitzgerald, Haskell and Hill (1990) in a study of the
relationship between elementary students’ self-esteem and their
participation in in-school 4-H youth programs found that particiption
was significantly related to self-esteem. While the researchers found that
the relationship was minimal, they concluded, “4-H is positively
affecting those who participate in the programs” (p. 374).
Other studies that have investigated the perception of
administrators, parents, advisors and VSO members concerning career
and technical student organizations. Daley (1992) in a study of Arizona
state legislators found that their awareness of VSOs was relatively high,
they found VSOs were effective in delivering a variety of outcomes, and
that VSOs were comparable in delivering skills and abilities to their
members. D’Haem (1993) found that administrators who personally
participated in VSOs were more positive in their attitude about VSOs
than administrators who did not participate. In a study of past FFA
participation in the role of community leadership development, Brannon,
Holley and Key (1989) found that former FFA members had an impact
on the development and success of community leaders. The study
examined former FFA members and examined their present leadership
Blakely et al. (1993), in a study of the perceived value of FFA
contests by students and adults, found that “Students felt learning
objectives were important outcomes of contests and aawards. Teamwork
and responsibility wer the highest rated items among all variables which
Zirkle & Connors/Career and Technical Student Organizations 21
explained the value of contests and awards” (p. 357). The results showed
that students listed teamwork, responsibility for a project, learning an
area of knowldege, competing with others, talking in front of people,
learning a specific skill and learning to win, in descending order. The
researchers also concluded from the results from members and adults
that “a majority of all groups (76.2%) rated cooperation as being more
important than competition” (p. 358).
Dormoody and Seevers (1994) found that three variables,
achievement expectancy, paticipation in FFA leadership activities, and
gender were significant in predicting the leadership life skills
development of members. A follow-up study b Wingenbach and Kaahler
(1997) supported these findings by concluding that positive relationsips
existed between youth leadership life skill development scores and FFA
leadership activities and membership in the FFA.
Findings and Conclusions
The review of literature found that individual studies usually
addressed only one career and technical student organization and did not
gather data from all eight secondary CTSOs recognized by the U.S.
Department of Educaiton policy statement for career and technical
student organizations (Scott & Sarkees-Wircenski, 2001). In addition,
mone of the limited number of research studies on career and technical
student organizations (CTSO) have addressed the role of CTSO
participation in developing workplace competencies identified in the
report of the Secretary’s Commission on Achieving Necessary Skills
(SCANS)(U.S. Department of Labor, 1992). So, while some CTSOs,
such as FFA and SkillsUSA-VICA, have activities that incorporate
SCANS skills, a comprehensive examination of this subject is lacking.
Additionally, each CTSO has explored the issue of student achievement
on an intermittent basis, with little interaction between the different
organizations. Lastly, there has been no nationally based study to
examine the immediate or long-term benefits of participation in CTSOs
with respect to the development and assessment of these skills or toward
other indicators of student success (National Dissemination Center for
Career and Technical Education, 2002).
Implications and Recommendations
Support for CTSO’s is derived from their role in developing the
career, leadership and personal development of students (Gordon, 2003).
In an era of accountability, this support will only continue if “hard data”
22 Workforce Education Forum, Fall 2003
can be provided that demonstrates the effectiveness of CTSO’s in the
development of student knowledge and skills. This literature review
demonstrates the limited nature of studies addressing this issue.
Therefore, the following actions are recommended:
1. All eight career and technical Student Organizations should
work cooperatively in order to standardize assessment
procedures for more consistent data analysis. These assessment
s should be tied preferably to SCANS competencies or other
nationally recognized knowledge and skill standards.
2. Incorporation of the above listed competencies/skills/
knowledge assessment into CTSO competitive events.
3. Development of a nationally based study, encompassing all
eight secondary CTSO’s, to determine the extent to which
participation in CTSO activities contributes the above-
mentioned skills and knowledge.
4. Development of a longitudinal study of CTSO members to
determine how membership in career and technical student
organizations have benefited them in either postsecondary
education or in their chosen career.
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Blakely, M., Holschuh, M., Seefeldt, B, Shinn, G., Smith, E., & Vaughn,
P. (1993). Perceived value of FFA contests and awards by students
and other adult groups. Proceedings of the 20th Annual National
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Camp, W.G., Jackson, R.S., Buser, B.R., & Baldwin, E.T. (2000).
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26 Workforce Education Forum, Fall 2003
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Chris Zirkle and James J. Connors are Assistant Professors with the
College of Education and the College of Food, Agricultural, and
Environmental Sciences, respectively, at Ohio State University.