Early career influences are consequential. Career exploration in the early grades exposes students to varied pathways. Hobbies, extracurricular activities and electives in elementary and middle school shape career and technical education (CTE) pathways.
Starting Early: Career Development in the Early Grades, a new brief produced by ACTE and sponsored by Xello, offers promising strategies to help educators ready students for curricular and early career choices.
Integrate career exploration into core content.
“Why do I need to learn this?” Students want to know. Hands-on, experiential learning encourages students to take agency over their education. And students may begin to connect the dots between academic standards and career competencies.
CareerStart is a program developed in partnership between the Winston-Salem/Forsyth School district and the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. They integrated career examples in four core subject areas.
“Not only did only did students report increased belonging and engagement in school, they demonstrated enhanced transition to middle school and improved achievement (Woolley et al., 2013). Further, rigorous evidence even showed a trend in closing achievement gaps for underrepresented students (Rose et al., 2012).”
Imagine the classroom and school as a workplace.
Your students will love it! Imagine the potential job opportunities at school. Transform your learning environment into a mock workplace. Develop roles such as classroom computer engineer, morning news broadcaster or library assistant. Encourage students to consider personal strengths, as well as their interests, before deciding while role suits them best. Teachers may conduct mock interviews and/or performance evaluations. As a result, students “extend career skills such as self-management, relationship and communication skills, and responsible decision-making.
“These experiences prompt understand of the world of work and give students an opportunity for career exploration and growth while enhancing the school community.”
Additional strategies discussed include:
- “At A.J. Lindeman Elementary School in Kentucky, staff combine a career walk and a visit to the reality store. Students buy life essentials based on the salaries of career choices to envision future lifestyles. The broader Operation Occupation (Mariani et al., 2016) includes token economies in classrooms, targeted school counselor and career infused classroom lessons, a career fair and more.
- “Students at middle schools in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula spend summers at Delta-Schoolcraft Career Tech Center changing motor oil and rotating tires, learning basic welding, and making key fobs with a computer numerical control mill. Similarly, elementary schools in the Chula Vista School District in CA visit Innovation Stations created with local energy-based companies to explore hands-on work matched to early interests.”
The examples provided hinge on a “planned and programmatic approach to early grades CTE. ACTE provides many tools to accomplish this task.” Resources such as:
- Defining Quality: Student Career Development
- Broadening the Path: Design Principles for Middle Grades CTE
Understand that new programs of study can be confusing. To facilitate career exploration in a manner that is effective, all stakeholders must undertake “professional development in order to translate programming and stay aligned with current trends.”
Everyone has a role to play. Start now. “These efforts can make CTE programming in high school more fluid.” When students and their families begin career exploration earlier, they become better able to “navigate curricular, postsecondary and career paths required in today’s dynamic world of work.”