The job market is consistently evolving, so there’s no better time to get your students discovering their career paths than the present. Larry Bernstein explains. 

Over the span of the pandemic, there have been countless articles and reports about the rise in teen anxiety and depression. We saw many students continue to learn online in the 2020/21 school year, leaving them home and isolated from their friends. As the 2021/22 school year is underway—hoping to bring more normalcy for students—one question that needs to be answered is how to motivate students. One piece of the puzzle for getting students excited is introducing career exploration.

That’s right—by exploring career paths, students can focus on their future rather than being mired in the challenges that they may be facing (or have faced) in the present. As students learn about careers and discover a career path they can imagine themselves on, it’s inspiring and a reason for hope. “Individuals who naturally have vivid imaginations and are optimistic tend to have better skills in managing life’s stressors and dealing with triggering events,” says Haley Neidich, a mental health professional.

So by exploring career paths in the classroom, teachers are helping students with their mental health, preparing them for the future, and generating excitement about classroom learning. With all these benefits, the question is, what can educators do to get students excited about creating their career paths?

Make the Career Path Realistic

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While all roads may lead to home, every career path is personal. Simply pigeonholing students leads to resentment and frustration. On the other hand, young people appreciate the opportunity to express their individuality and the freedom to discover and express their skills and interests. Therefore, when teachers empower students to discover their career paths based on their skills and interests, they will be more engaged in the career exploration process. The entire process is more realistic.

This process starts with students discovering their interests and abilities and what career that is related to them. After all, a viable career path that is bound to excite students will incorporate their interests. Therefore, Xello’s Matchmaker asks students about their likes and dislikes and then suggests careers based on their interests. It considers different working conditions, students’ post-high school plans, and more. The system then suggests career matches and career clusters.

The system also suggests classes for students to take. These suggestions help students recognize there are steps along the career path – it’s not simply a destination. And those steps start in the classroom, not in some distant future. By recognizing they are working towards their future while in school, students feel a greater sense of purpose in the classroom. The information taught in the classroom is not some mumbo jumbo that leaves students wondering, do I need to know this? The clear answer is yes! It’s about their future work, and it will give them the knowledge that will help them in their job.

Knowing that students are taking classes with an eye toward their career path should also impact classroom instruction. Teachers should strive to think outside the box and find opportunities to bring the real world into education. For example, guest speakers from the professional world students are interested in, can be invited to speak in the classroom. As students get a chance to interact with professionals, they will gain more insight. This insight can help them envision themselves in a similar job.

There’s nothing like being on the scene and seeing how things happen up and personal. So, getting out of the classroom and taking a field trip to job locations that are relevant to the career path students are interested in is helpful. Students can see the appropriate behavior, dress, etiquette on the job site.

Other opportunities exist within the everyday classroom. Teachers can develop assignments that encourage students to explore relevant careers. Finally, simply keeping career paths in mind when citing examples and class discussions is useful. It can help students develop and understand the lingo that is part of the career they are interested in. All of this keeps the career top of mind and makes education more realistic and engaging.

Find Opportunities to Make Career Paths Exploration More Memorable

“What did you do in school today?”

“Nothing.”

If parents had a quarter for every time they had the above conversations, they’d have enough to pay for a year of college.

To excite students about careers, educators need to find opportunities to make learning memorable. Doing so means going beyond the standard resources and dryly presenting the information.

By empowering students to take more control of their education and their career path, technology can make learning more memorable. Most students are comfortable with technology and relate to it well. It can also enhance the education process. “…technology can be linked to improved learning. When technology is integrated into lessons in ways that are aligned with good in-person teaching pedagogy, learning can be better than without technology,” according to a Brookings Institution “In other words, ed tech can improve learning when used to personalize instruction to each student’s pace.”

Lastly, students are more likely to take the lead when using technology, and this leads to creating memorable moments. Compare this to a teacher droning on about a topic. How do you spell space out? Technology can also inspire creativity which goes hand in hand with making something memorable.

In general, student-centered learning is more memorable since it encourages students to take an active role in their education. Student-centered learning also can incorporate group work. Collaboration forces students to learn and work with each other, and it can simulate what they will do in a job. It also is an opportunity to socialize. For those students who have been isolated due to the pandemic, this opportunity will be especially welcomed and memorable.

Allowing students to present work in class can be nerve-wracking for them, but it’s also memorable. They want to look good in front of their peers, which drives them to work harder.

Teachers can develop projects that are related to career paths that students are interested in. Perhaps, there’s a problem that students need to solve. They have to find resources to gain the insight they need to solve the problem. It could involve talking to people already in the career, research, etc. The aim is to simulate challenges that arise in the career paths that students are interested in. The projects can take place over a few days or more. These sorts of projects tend to be more memorable since they require more effort. They also mirror challenges on a job as they are not always solved in a 45-minute class period.

Discover Authentic Career Paths

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At some point during the school year, every preschool child is asked, “What do you want to be when you grow up? Family members and friends then get to see or hear what career or job each child wants to have in the future. The answers range greatly, and there are usually some funny responses (at my son’s preschool graduation, one student said he wants to be a truck when he grows up).

As children get older, the cute answer to career paths becomes more thought out. According to a study, “Grade 5/6 students scoring notably higher on career planning, interest, and curiosity.” The study notes that providing authentic and relevant career path exploration at a young age has many benefits. The exploration should, however, should continue as students age and adapt appropriately.

In elementary school, the aim is to empower students to explore. Educators can utilize resources, including Xello, to help students through a self-discovery process and create career awareness. Students can begin to imagine themselves in a career or job that is right for them rather than picking from some random limited list of careers.

As students move into middle and high school, Xello has an assessment that can help students gain a greater understanding of their unique interests, skills, and strengths. They then tie that into relevant career options. By emphasizing a career and going beyond the classroom a level of authenticity is added. Engaging students in activities that are tied into the real world and or allow them to learn by doing increases authenticity.

Authentic learning is also complex, with no simple right or wrong answers. This can be mirrored in the classroom during discussions, tests, projects. By encouraging students to dig deeper and recognize there may be no right or wrong, opinions and thoughts will grow beyond previous limits.

Students can consider generic yet thought-provoking questions – Do I really want this career? What about it interests me? What do I want in a career? Is this how I want to spend my life when I get out of school? Is this career good for me? Then, there are questions related to the specific career that can be discussed.

These discussions on career paths can come in the form of debates forcing students to take sides – even if they are not sure they agree. Or they can come in the form of research where students have to report to the class (and then discuss it). Ultimately, engaging in authentic conversation, discussion, debate, etc. engages students and gets them thinking.

Conclusion

As students readjust to full-time in-person learning after the trauma of COVID-19, career path exploration is a good (and useful) topic to delve into. When presented in the right way, exploring career paths can excite students. It fires up their imagination as they envision themselves in the future. And these days, students, in particular, need hope.

ABOUT LARRY

Larry is an experienced educator having taught at both the K-12 and post high school level. Outside of the classroom, Larry is a freelance writer whose writing focuses on edtech and general education topics.