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Reflecting On The Future
When I was in school, I do not recall learning much about careers, let alone doing any career exploration. I went from high school directly to college, completely unaware of what I wanted to do with my life beyond school. Because my parents did not go to college, it was the expectation that I would, and I was eager to. However, I spent a lot of time and money on a bachelor’s degree, which ended up serving no purpose, and doing nothing to get me closer to a career. But my experience should not be normal. I want students to be better able to make important choices for their future.
With November being National Career Development Month, it is the perfect opportunity to be intentional and focus some time on future career choices. The goal of this month is to promote and improve career development at all stages. From kindergarten through high school, students should continuously explore careers in the classroom environment. Some students will know from an early age what they want to do when they grow up. For others, it will take learning about many different careers to find the one for them. Either way, the more knowledge we share with regard to career exploration, the better informed our students will be when it comes time to make those important choices.
Why Explore Careers?
Career exploration is not just beneficial to helping students decide their future paths. Career exploration gives students wider exposure to the working world. It improves students’ beliefs about career opportunities, motivating them to aspire to their dream careers. It also increases the probability that they are able to complete high school, helps them better plan their choices while in school to gain the skills they need, understand the purpose of the courses they are required to take, and pursue the appropriate post-secondary education. In their article titled Fostering Career and College Readiness, Sampson, Hooley, and Marriot share evidence suggesting that in addition to being better prepared for college and careers, career development can impact retention, achievement, and transition of students. Similarly, the Coalition for Career Development published findings that show their career exploration program reduces the drop-out rate, motivates students to be active participants in their education, and even reduces college debt due to being better able to select a major. Career exploration also better enables them to set realistic goals for themselves by teaching them the preparation they need for specific careers.
Because of my own experience struggling to choose a career, I feel I have a valuable perspective on this topic. I also feel a responsibility to do my best to ensure my students know the possibilities for their future. I even talk to my own children regularly about their talents, skills, abilities, and goals. I make sure they know that my expectations for them are not related to a specific path. My hope is that they know their worth and have a plan. That plan may be a trade, or it may require years of college courses. Either way, I want them to be able to make an educated choice that provides a happy life for them.
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Beneficial Career Exploration Opportunities
Throughout November, schools should plan activities that give their students valuable career development experiences. Some will host events that bring together successful professionals from various fields under one roof to offer activities that inspire students to ask questions and see the potential for that career. Known to most as career fairs, these opportunities for direct interaction with owners, managers, and employees in fields of interest can provide valuable knowledge, as well as chances to clear up misconceptions students may have regarding careers. Students can also develop networking skills in this structured setting, along with finding out about the fine details like demand and selection process for the careers they are interested in.
Shadowing is another opportunity we can offer that provides hands-on experiences for our students. When students job shadow, they spend a day or two observing a professional on the job. Job shadowing is also a great chance for high school students because it lets them learn about different jobs in a risk-free way before they choose a major before they begin college and classes. It’s also a much better way to learn which jobs you like and dislike now, rather than wait until after you’ve graduated college to learn that you don’t like any of the careers your major prepared you for.
Webinars and career assessments are also valuable tools that can be used to narrow interests and skills in order for students to focus their exploration on specific areas. Webinars cover a wide range of topics, including resumes and cover letters, job skills employers are looking for, how to search for employment, and everything in between. Career assessments are basically quizzes that evaluate student interests and skills and link them to career areas. Career assessments are especially beneficial in early high school, as they can determine the path students take to graduate, whether it be enrolling in a trade program or taking advanced classes for college credits during their junior and senior years.
Even students as young as elementary school can participate in career exploration by dressing up as professionals from their dream careers. At any grade level, guest speakers can provide excellent opportunities to share insight on possible careers. Our students are surrounded by obvious career options every day. From teachers to doctors, dentists to police officers, they tend to stick to what they see. Having your students conduct a “hidden jobs” search where they dig deep to find not-so-obvious jobs, such as human resources professionals, ultrasound technicians, and marketing strategists, can open doors they never even knew existed. Sharing these career options with their peers further spreads the knowledge of the endless possibilities out there.
Going Beyond Career Month
Beyond Career Month, schools can offer long-term projects throughout the school year. For example, schools can work with community members to develop internship and mentoring programs. These provide longer exposure to careers for those ready to narrow down their choices. Such opportunities are an excellent way for our students to see the ins and outs of a career over a longer period of time. In addition, students can build relationships with those in their community as well as valuable references to use down the road.
Finally, let’s not forget to include the families of our students. Their input is valuable when it comes to career exploration. They can provide insight into skills and abilities, talents, and even dislikes that we do not see in the classroom. Including parents in the conversations, activities, and exploration also helps to add to the partnerships between schools and families. Parent involvement has a positive impact on all aspects of a child’s education, so it makes complete sense that we include them in the planning process when it comes to career exploration and the decision-making process. It is especially important when the student and their family do not share the same post-high school path ideas. Being that buffer and providing information for everyone to make educated decisions can play an incredibly important role in a student’s future.
With Career Development, Knowledge Is Power
Career development activities and events help prepare our students for their futures. The career options are truly endless, with new ones popping up all the time. I believe that as educators, we are responsible for providing our students with the opportunities to build the knowledge they need to make the best decisions they can about their futures. In the coming weeks, take time to explore careers with your students. At the very least, they will have a better understanding of why they are learning the topic or topics you teach.
By engaging in some of these career exploration activities, we are motivating our students and giving them the skills they need to imagine themselves in the workforce and make informed decisions during and after their academic careers.
Melissa Hahn is a special education teacher with more than twenty years of experience in the classroom. In addition to being a classroom teacher, Melissa has completed course work in educational leadership and hopes to take on an administrative role in the future, ideally staying in the field of special education. Outside of the classroom, she is a wife and mom of two. Her children keep her busy with their travel sports teams, which she loves to attend and cheer them on at. When they have time, Melissa loves to travel with her family.
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