What "Career" Planning Really Means for Elementary Students

What "Career" Planning Really Means for Elementary Students

Early career planning is all about self-discovery and helping children make sense of the world around them.

Some people go through their whole lives unsure and searching for a career that best suits them. Ironically since many people were asked by their parents and teachers about what job they wanted as far back as preschool. While few people follow through on the job, they said they wanted as children, having a dream is valuable. That’s why elementary school is a perfect time for students to start career planning.

The Right Time for Career Exploration?

As children reach adolescence, they do more complex thinking. According to Stanford Children’s Health, during adolescence which is from ages 12-18, children begin to “do abstract thinking” and “thinking about possibilities” as well as “consider many points of view” plus “compare or debate ideas or opinions,” amongst other things.
As students reach this stage, they begin to consider how they fit into society and what they want in the future. By middle adolescence (equivalent to middle school-aged students) exploration according to Stanford Children’s Health, deepens. Specifically, young people “begin to think long term,” and, “thinks about and begins to systematically consider possible future goals (for example, What do I want?).” And at the end of adolescence (figure the last couple of years in high school), “students are begin[ing] to focus thinking on making career decisions.”
When students get to the later years of high school, the question of what type of job or career they want is serious. It can also be anxiety-producing as students need to consider their post secondary paths. Questions such as can I succeed in a career, do I have the necessary talents for the position, are sure to arise. High school career planning can help ease some of these concerns as the job or career is less of a mystery due to the student’s exposure to it.
But why wait till high school or even middle school to expose students to career planning? Beginning the discussion around career exploration early in a student’s academic career, such as elementary school when students, in general, are not concerned about the potential roadblocks can be productive. Learning about careers when there is no pressure can empower open-minded students.

Why Elementary School is a Good Time for Career Exploration

The work and discussion around career development, will, of course, look much different for elementary students than it would for those in high school who already have one eye on post secondary education/options. However, it is still an appropriate and beneficial time for students to begin the process of career exploration.
Cited in an article by Professor Mary Edwin of the University of Missouri-St Louis and Professor Diandra J. Prescod of The Pennsylvania State University is a paper by career development theorist, Eli Ginzberg. He says, the career choice process, “… occurs across three periods – fantasy, tentative, and realistic choices.” Ginzberg believes the tentative period begins around the time students are in fifth grade and it involves them, “…making career choices based on information available to them about their interests, skills, and values.”
Left unsaid is when the fantasy period begins though it can reasonably be assumed to begin as early as kindergarten. Regardless of when the fantasy period begins, it is part of the process. It is this element of the process that elementary schools should focus on when it comes to career development.
Professors Edwin and Prescod also note other studies in their article that attest to the value of career development for elementary students. “Career development is a lifelong process that begins in childhood and has been linked to student success in other aspects of their development in childhood and adulthood.”
Other studies cited by Professors Edwin and Prescod tie career development in elementary school with future success. “Career development is a lifelong process that begins in childhood (Blackhurst, Auger, & Wahl, 2003) and at the elementary level, career development is tied to success in many other aspects of an individual’s development in childhood and adulthood. Researchers (Akos, Niles, Miller, & Erford, 2011; Clemens, Carey, & Harrington, 2010; Turner & Lapan, 2013) have posited that career development at the elementary level solidifies the connection between academic achievement and future endeavors for students.”
So elementary student students should engage in a form of career readiness as they are developing an awareness of the greater world and how they relate to others. This process will help students in many ways.
One source sums up the value of career planning for elementary school students clearly, “An elementary career development curriculum helps younger students determine more of who they are so that by the time they are of employability age, they can concentrate more on what they want to do.”

What Does a Career Readiness Program Look Like for Elementary Students?

Other than vague notions of what their parents’ job is, most elementary students have no notion of a career or the real world. They’re a blank slate. Therefore, at this stage, career readiness should aim to explore and help students get to know themselves.
A career readiness program, according to a study cited by Professors Edwin and Prescod article, should be about an “Exploration of interests, skills, and values is important in this stage because these aspects play a major role in students selection of careers.” Through a career readiness program, students should engage in lessons designed to help them explore and discover their
skills and interests.
Xello’s program does this by students developing a story of who they are and what makes them unique. The aim of this is to set the groundwork for each student to go through ongoing self-reflection and discovery. The lessons also include opportunities for students to discover a variety of careers and their associated skills and pathways to better understand the working world. By each student knowing their personal interests, they can start to get a sense of what careers might be suitable for them.
A research article found in Sage Journals notes that students can enjoy multiple successful post-school outcomes when certain activities are integrated into the elementary school setting. These include self-determination, development of career awareness, and family involvement. The article further states “developing self-determination and career awareness is a lifelong process that should begin in the primary grades.”
A separate study cited states that “determination that allows individuals to set goals and execute action steps to accomplish those goals (Papay and et al., 2015). Career awareness promotes self-awareness from an early age as children learn about their abilities, their interests, and their strengths. Therefore, K-5 career awareness is at its best when integrated into the curriculum.” Lessons that focus on engaging each student so they can explore their curiosity are invaluable.

As part of the career readiness program for elementary school, students should discover the world of work. What careers exist? Lessons should involve giving students clear age-appropriate descriptions of careers, as well as biographies of people who have chosen such a career, that will widen their horizons. In addition, the curriculum should include other facts and resources designed to give students a firmer grasp of career options that exist.
With schools offering a wide variety of resources, every student can begin their career development path. They can enjoy the exploration and get a better idea of the world beyond themselves. Schools can and should provide career readiness programs for elementary school students. The pressure-free age and environment make it a great time for a student to learn about themselves, future career opportunities. Career readiness programs also enrich students’ education as it has long-term benefits including helping students move forward on a career path.