At the tender age of five, students begin to postulate about their future in the form of “When I grow up, I want to be ….” However, with a mere five-year experience with the world under their belt from a rather small vantage point, it can be difficult for students to truly know what they want. Therefore, their answers are rooted in professions they’ve seen on television, movies, or their parents. As such, every student wants to be a doctor, lawyer, teacher, or a police officer; seldom do students express a desire to be a food scientist, museum curator, or data analyst. It’s easy to blame students’ naivete on their age, but many of these same students grow up and graduate high school with a limited scope of the large, complicated job market. If students are lucky, they can figure out who they really want to be in their first two years of college and change their major accordingly. In fact, a third of students change their major at least once and 1 in 10 change it two or three times (according to the U.S. Department of Education).
Instead of allowing students to exist in a rather boring world of simply doctors and lawyers, we must disabuse our students and help them understand the breadth of opportunity in the world. And with new technologies and new problems, new jobs are created every day. Students have every opportunity to work in what makes them happy, even if they don’t know that job exists! This mission isn’t as hairbrained as it seems. In fact, some lawmakers are trying to make it happen. According to “Langevin, Thompson Introduce Bill to Strengthen Career Counseling in Middle and High School”, Democratic Congressman Jim Langevin of Rhode Island and Republican Congressman Jim Thompson of Pennsylvania recently introduced the Counseling for Career Choice Act. The act would “provide grants to states to implement statewide career counseling frameworks that are developed in coordination with community stakeholders, including schools and local businesses.” Under federal funding, schools would develop career counseling programs, assess career counseling activities for students, and implement professional development and certification programs for school counselors. In an interview, Langevin suggests much of the career counseling would fall under school counselors’ umbrella of responsibilities. He hopes to provide school counselors with the training and resources necessary to assist students at the beginning of their professional journey.
While some may be hesitant to introduce the idea of career counseling so early in students’ lives, study after study proves how beneficial early career planning can be. According to research from the Harvard Graduate School of Education, the Lynch School of Education at Boston College and Medford public schools, young people’s perceptions of the job market affects the way they study and plan while still in high school. They found that students who were more pessimistic about the job market were far less likely to be academically engaged or even stay in school. However, intentional school-based relationships and support can mitigate students’ rather bleak outlook on potential job opportunities. More specifically, “For all students, strong school-based relationships led to a negative association between job market pessimism and academic engagement.” As students begin to understand opportunities outside in the real world and relate them to the information they learn in the classroom, they become more hopeful about their future opportunities.
While the aforementioned study focuses on the effect of school support and involvement within adolescents, many studies have noted similar results for elementary school children as well. One study called “Operation Occupation” performed by researchers Melissa Mariani Ph.D., Carolyn Berger, Ph.D. found that under thoughtful programming and hands-on educational lessons, elementary school students could also develop their college and career readiness skills. Operation Occupation included lessons about learning styles, personality types, job skills, wants versus needs, career fairs and skill set scavenger hunts, and a well-thought-out “Reality Store”, in which students were paid for a specific career and budgeted their money wisely for certain responsibilities like housing, food, and entertainment. After the Operation Occupation lessons, students expressed feeling more inclined to pursue post-secondary education and learn about themselves and their interests. These students also expressed an increased understanding of the kinds of occupations in the world of work.
As Stephanie K. Eberle aptly states, “Career development is long-term, constantly changing and full of possibility — a marathon, not a sprint. Education is a part of this development, not just a means to an end.” Before students can even broach the topic of careers, they need to understand themselves, their interests, and the role it plays in the world around them. All of those topics take time. “A Marathon, Not a Sprint” notes how often students don’t interact with a career counselor until the very last days as a senior in college. Unfortunately, at this point in their lives, students have glazed over many insightful and teachable moments that could have helped them learn something about themselves or the working world in general. “If tended to early on, an awareness of one’s values and skill sets, along with connection building, can help one bridge between education and the world of work in a nonthreatening way.” In this way, students can learn slowly, taking in each educational moment with a grain of mindfulness rather than scrambling to figure out what kind of worker they are and what professional values they hold.
There is no arguing the research. Career development helps students understand the world around them, propels them towards academic success and focuses students’ attention on the importance of understanding the role of themselves– their values, personality, interest– in the job search process. Taken one moment at a time, the world of work becomes easily navigable and deeply understood. After all, the world needs more than doctors, lawyers, and teachers!