Once upon a time, it was fairly easy to make a career choice. Anyone could get a job and maybe stay for 20–30 years. Then, retire with benefits and a pension.
Unfortunately, things changed. Much of our 21st century workforce maintains two or three jobs to make ends meet. Benefits are not always guaranteed. But the upsides do exist: remote work, flexible schedules, fortitude to make employment choices that align with personal needs or philanthropy. Access to options like these matter a lot when many workers face challenges related to child care, elder care and physical disabilities.
ACTE member schools provide educational leadership in developing a competitive workforce for career success. In order to foster a competitive workforce, workers must be equipped, educated and engaged in long-term career goals that support them as holistic individuals. How can we accomplish this? By:
- Bringing career development into the classroom as a curriculum activity
- Enhancing student exploration
- Encouraging self-directed learning
Incorporate career development as a routine practice to be periodically evaluated.
Once a student identifies a pathway that aligns with their personality, interests and values, teachers direct them to work-based learning resources such as site visits, interviews and job shadowing. Career development helps students recognize what they could aspire to and whether or not the goal is achievable.
Commence career exploration at an early age.
Some suggest it should begin as early as in late elementary grades. Educators teach social and emotional learning (SEL) activities in elementary school to develop skills in self-awareness, communication, confidence and decision-making. This foundation helps students — later, in middle and high school — to navigate strengths, preferences and skills. Students know, inherently, what type of setting they feel good in (e.g. alone, group, team) as well as basic likes and dislikes (e.g. structured, innovative, organized, fluid). When they are exposed to career development earlier, they become better able to navigate postsecondary transitions.
“What do you want to be when you grow up?”
This question sets the stage for career exploration as early as kindergarten. Students think freely about their future. They imagine being a specific persona — to role play and to model the types of roles they see in their daily lives. In a natural and instinctual way, children begin to identify their interests. As they mature, they begin to understand the basics of why people work; they learn more about careers outside of their immediate social community.
Beginning in middle school, students engage in specific discussions about college and career pathways. Educators use assessment tools such as Environment & Personality Intuitive Card Sort (EPICS), Meyers Briggs, Strength Finder and others to guide a student to consider occupational matches. By the tenth grade and beyond, a student should focus on careers that fit, engaging in work-based learning activities:
- Job shadowing
- Workplace tours
What opportunity does a changing workforce present CTE career pathways?
The emerging need: a workforce trained in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) fields, such as health science/care, administration, business, management, natural resources, energy technology, audio/video technologies, education and training, and finance. Community needs dictate services like plumbing, HVAC and electrical be readily available. The COVID-19 pandemic clearly defined “essential worker.”
Including the aforementioned, opportunities for new pathways emerged from distance working, new jobs created to suit the societal implications of quarantines and social distancing. Digital communication technologies evolved rapidly to meet the needs of a remote workforce.
Education and educators will experience an increase in online instruction and less in brick-and-mortar learning institutions. This applies as well to companies that once relied on brick-and-mortar structures. Evidence points to increased productivity levels from remote workers — experiencing little or no commute, and a better work-life balance. This is not to say there aren’t those who have suffered… Perhaps surprisingly, millennials struggled to adjust to working remotely; they reported experiencing physical ailments due to work stations not set up correctly; feeling that employers should have provided more training for distance working; and having difficulty resolving technical issues when working remotely (e.g. internet connectivity or lack of available equipment). New CTE courses may address topics such as professional and personal isolation, and internet and online meeting etiquette.
Changing landscape, altered priorities
Take Millennials as an example; they make up the largest percentage of our 21st century workforce. Millennials expect to change jobs and positions frequently. They don’t expect loyalty from their companies, and are incentivized to work hard if it aligns with their own personal goals and desires. Millennials are more attuned to their personal well-being (mentally and physically) than they are in pursuit of the almighty dollar.
Circle back. Revisit bringing career exploration, values, personal motivators and interests into the everyday classroom. As educators, we must prepare students for an unprecedented future.
Think back to when you chose a pathway for yourself. Did you discover your ideal environment, values and personality type before choosing your career? Do we afford students the opportunity for exploration and growth in the classroom as well as in career centers? No one knows what the future holds; it will benefit students to:
- Possess a range of skills
- Meet personal and professional values
- Accomplish a sense of fulfillment in their work
How to conduct career development
Career development activities need to be conducted in a manner that is transparent. Every student must be able to weigh the pros and cons of potential opportunities. This can be achieved through assessments and using brain science. Activities that engage intuition, conscious reasoning, and cognitive coaching can support a determination of career fit. Careers are multifaceted just like we are. Activities that help students recognize talents, skills, environments, work settings and communication styles are vital when exploring careers.
Not every assessment tool works for every person. As a population (and society), we learn differently. Some of us are visual learners, while others are auditory, kinesthetic and linguistic learners. Some of us face challenges that preclude us from using some types of assessment tools, such as language barriers and disabilities.
Questions to ask when considering career assessment tools for your students:
- Will students relate or engage with the assessment, activity, or program?
- Are the activities all online or are some work-based? Are they suitable for group learning in a hybrid learning structure?
- Do the results provide insight into strengths and interests?
- What personal and professional skills and talents are covered?
- What type of education is needed for different degrees and certificates?
- How will the student identify short- and long-term goals?
- What additional skills and experience are needed to obtain a certain job?
Mass marketing and video production brought visual literacy to the forefront. In 2013, over 65% of the population indicated a visual learning style. The EPICS assessment engages students using visual literacy and SEL to motivate further learning. Channels of discussion open, regarding professional and personal choices, values, skills, and preferences as they pertain to careers and lifelong success.
To end on a personal note
I did not always understand the importance of satisfying both personal and professional needs. I was not presented with options based on my likes, interests and work environments. My generation focused on making money and securing a job. I wanted to be a flight attendant, but I didn’t listen to my inner voice and my desire. Rather, I listened to what other people in my life told me. I dropped out of college and worked minimum wage jobs until I realized I needed an education to achieve my dreams. At the age of 26, I applied and get hired by a major airline.
My life changed. Three decades later, I still work as a flight attendant. I went back to school when I was ready. I received my master’s degree and I created EPICS.
When we provide students with career exploration tools at an early age, they make informed decisions. They are better equipped to navigate successful postsecondary transitions.
Karen Anderson-Fignon, MA, LCAT, is the founder of EPICS. Email her.