Building the Workforce of Tomorrow: Teaching Career Exploration in the Classroom

Career exploration in the school setting has changed greatly over the last couple of decades. This is primarily due to the changing world of work. Careers are no longer limited by state, region, or even country. The world of work has stretched beyond our country and is a global playing field. In order for students to compete globally, they must first be exposed to careers outside their local community and they must understand how they are connected to the world of work if they are going to be contenders in a global market.

When to Introduce Career Exploration

Career exploration is not a new term or concept for educators. However, this is an area that teachers, administrators, and counselors have primarily presented to students once they have reached middle and high school levels. The question is why? Almost every kindergarten class in the country will have a “Community Helpers” unit. This is a perfect time to begin introducing career options for students at the youngest of levels. Younger children are eager to learn about different occupations and most have not developed stereotypes for certain jobs. Younger students have an open mind and truly engage in what their interests and values are related to career choice. As students grow older, career exploration needs to be zoned in towards the interests and abilities of the individual student.

Teaching Career Options at the Elementary Level

Cajon Valley School District located in El Cajon, California is leading the way in teaching students about careers from as early as kindergarten through their program called World of Work (WOW). Led by Ed Hidalgo, Cajon Valley uses a straightforward method of allowing students to engage in career discovery. Their method follows four steps in teaching students about different career fields: exploration, simulation, meet a pro, and practice. With the advancement in technology, students can “meet a pro” without ever leaving the classroom.

As teachers, we must change our vocabulary in order to assist students in transitioning attributes of a good student to the qualities of a valuable employee. School is fundamentally structured to teach students appropriate workplace values: attendance, punctuality, teamwork, responsibility, and pride in performance. Teachers have to make sure students see the connection. For example, most teachers distribute and review a list of rules and procedures for the classroom, but this could be easily modified to create a connection to the workplace. From changing the list to a contract, the teacher and students can now have a dialogue about expectations and outcomes. The student realizes the connection: as an adult, you work for a wage and as a student, you work for a grade.

Making Career Connections While Following Curriculum

Cajon Valley uses a career assessment to assess student interests and personality. The RIASEC model, created by John Holland, categorizes careers into six personality themes. Students become familiar with common personality traits associated with each section of the model. As students learn about different careers and personality traits, they are able to categorize them independently. A great example of using the RIASEC model without sacrificing curriculum-based instructional time is where students diagramed Martin Luther King, Jr. The students selected which category they believed King fit best in and then defended their answers. Through this assignment, it is also easy to point out to students that having a career does not limit someone. For instance, Martin Luther King, Jr. actively represented several different careers during his lifetime: preacher, public speaker, activist, campaign manager, and many others.

What better way to make students see the relevance of a subject or course than to connect the skills being taught to those needed in a profession? Relevancy is what drives us as adults and it is the same for students. This generation is the “why generation.” They want to know why they need to know what you are teaching, why they have to take standardized tests, and why certain courses are required for graduation. When a geometry teacher can reach a student by not only explaining but also modeling how a video game designer uses geometry skills when creating the latest gaming trend, that student locks in and becomes fully engaged if that is a career that interests him or her. The concept is the same for tying any career and real-world skill to a subject area.

Final Thoughts

In conclusion, career exploration should start as soon as students enter the classroom and should progressively build as the student ages. Curriculum does not need to be limited by career exploration, in fact, curriculum can be strengthened as students learn more about interests. There are several resources on this topic and more articles to follow about career exploration and other subcategories of this topic.

Innovation Labs is a division of The Myers-Briggs Company. Our mission is to create equality in education by allowing all students the opportunity to self-explore and find career paths that are right for them. The VitaNavis platform is how we can achieve that. The VitaNavis platform is a campus-wide solution that leverages interest and personality insights to help students find their purpose. When given the opportunity to explore all career possibilities and choose a path, students are more likely to persist in school, leading to higher engagement and retention. Learn more at VitaNavis