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Report: Career Planning as Early as Middle School Is Key to Workforce Equity

girl thinking about career options

A new whitepaper produced by a coalition of representatives from government, industry, education and nonprofits asserts that career readiness should be the first priority of American education, beginning in middle school. And that such a focus will lead to greater equity in the workforce. That's according to "Career Readiness for All," a report published by the Coalition for Career Development (CCD) that hopes to serve as a "starting point" for helping the United States understand that it needs to create a high-quality career development system.

The challenges driving the need for education reform are many. As the report stated, the country has invested too little into "quality career development." Students leave high school without a clear idea about their futures, leaving them to flounder. About a third of graduates decide not to go to college right away "and often struggle to find meaningful work." Many of those who do choose college lack direction and end up dropping out. And among those who pursue college, just six in 10 get a four-year degree in six years, and three in 10 get a two-year degree in three years. Many students graduate with "crippling" student loan debt. On top of those problems, skills gaps persist between what students leave school knowing and what employers want to hire for.

Based on discussions that took place among 200 participants during a national career development summit in Washington, D.C. last September, the Coalition constructed a framework for a career development roadmap with five essential components:

  • Career planning is prioritized, beginning in middle school and requiring "all students to develop and maintain a personal career and academic plan that aligns career and life goals to academic, postsecondary and career pathways."
  • Career advising needs to take a front seat in this work, with more "credentialed career advisors and licensed counselors" being hired into "every school and post-secondary institution." A new role, the "school career development advisor," would bring schools, families, employers and the "broader community" into the work and coordinate career development activities in the school experience as well as enlist employers to make work-based learning opportunities available.
  • Applied and work-based learning needs to become more common, with options for job shadowing, internships, apprenticeships and certifications.
  • A "baseline level" of career development technology should play a role in helping students, teachers and advisors sort out career and education plans. That might include artificial intelligence, for example, "for curating appropriate [and] personalized career development content and utility."
  • States need to change their funding models for colleges and universities to emphasize outcomes, such as job placement and graduation, over inputs such as enrollment.

CCD said in its paper that implementing these elements successfully would increase the incentive for students to stay in school, increase engagement in education, reduce college debt and provide students with "earlier entrance to financial independence and economic productivity."

"Ultimately, these reforms have the potential to revitalize a society now torn by deep divisions, reduced economic mobility and a deep fear by many that the American Dream is dead," said William Symonds, executive secretary of CCD and director of the Global Pathways Institute at Arizona State University, in a statement.

"For far too long, we have neglected an essential component in educating our young people: career development programs that help them decide which career they are best suited for and that help guide them in mapping out the best pathway to that career," added Leo Reddy, chairman of the Manufacturing Skill Standards Council and a member of the Coalition. "I am hopeful that the work of CCD will help move us away from a system that has only served the needs of a fraction of students to one that will better prepare all students and help fulfill the American promise of equal opportunity for all."

The full paper is available for download on the CCD site.

About the Author

Dian Schaffhauser is a former senior contributing editor for 1105 Media's education publications THE Journal, Campus Technology and Spaces4Learning.

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