Schools exist to teach students and are deemed successful when those attending are growing in their knowledge. 

Beyond educating students in the traditional sense, schools also need to prepare students so that they have the skills to function in the workplace. 

That means ensuring students have the critical social emotional skills (SEL) so they can easily develop real-world skills needed for the workplace. 

And because there’s a need to ensure your students have the 21st century skills needed to thrive in today’s fast-paced world of work, it is imperative for schools to expose students to career exploration at an early age. 

What is Career Exploration?

According to e-learning company, Applied Educational Systems, career exploration in education can be defined as, “the process of researching, evaluating, and learning about modern work opportunities and how students can pursue the careers of their choice.”

A career exploration program enables students to gain insight into potential careers. Students learn what skills are necessary for a particular career and what those who are in the profession do as part of their job. With this information, students can imagine themselves in careers that suit them.

Career Exploration Activities

How Does Career Exploration Work? 

Schools/school districts implement career exploration in different ways as there is no one way to do so.

According to Applied Educational Systems, there are four elements involved in the process of career exploration, which can help students learn about the world of work. These elements include research, evaluation, discussion, and decision.

Research involves introducing students to careers. Students select a few that sound interesting and learn more about them. There are many ways to do this including via visiting appropriate websites, reading books on the subject, bringing in guest lecturers, and even school trips.

Evaluation involves empowering, “students to analyze the research they’ve conducted so they can get a deeper understanding of their favorite jobs,” says Applied Educational Systems. 

Perhaps, this will lead a student to determine if the career interests them or not. Or they may also find another related career that is of even more interest. That’s fine. The only commitment is to the learning process and gaining more knowledge of potential opportunities.

As part of the discussion phase, students talk with their peers about their learnings. 

According to Applied Educational Systems (APS), “This lets students compare the careers they chose, why they liked those careers, and other offshoot careers that they discovered.” 

Students with similar interests can encourage each other and foster development. In addition, hearing about other careers may spark an interest in a student about a career they had not even considered.

With this decision step, students have decided which career they’d like to pursue further. To be clear, this does not mean they are committing to this career for their entire lives. 

But, according to APS, “just like the first three steps of the career exploration process — it gives students a direction so they can follow their passion to a fulfilling career.”

Having a direction is critical as it helps students figure out what careers they’ll actually love and enjoy. 

Why Include Career Exploration Programs in Your School?

Some may argue that school should only be about traditional learning, and students should not have to worry about a profession until they are older.

According to America’s Promise Alliance (APA), How do we expect young people to dream if they don’t know what they can dream about?” 

They suggest that career exploration helps students, “connect the dots between school and career in ways that keep them motivated to graduate with the skills they will need for the future.”

Journal Phi Delta Kappan published a study which found “that greater career exploration activities tend to improve the aspirations and achievements of students from all backgrounds, meaning they are more likely to graduate and to go on to post-secondary education.” 

In addition, students who are involved in a career exploration program are more likely to apply and go to college than those who are not involved in such a program.

With students more aware of an end goal, they are more likely to persist in the face of challenges. The vision of a potential career encourages students to be more focused on their current studies as they see the value in them. They are more likely to take classes that are relevant and challenging. 

Finally, according to APA, career exploration encourages students “to develop and work toward goals during the critical years when they are also beginning to venture beyond the orbit of their parents.”

So, rather than impede the learning process or cause students’ anxiety, career exploration serves as a motivator and gives students a greater sense of clarity. School is not in a vacuum unto itself but is for a purpose that will benefit the student’s future.

How to Introduce Elementary Students to Career Exploration?

Schools start students with career exploration as early as kindergarten. Of course, career exploration looks different in kindergarten and elementary school than it does in the upper grades.

Research published in Professional School Counseling  found that students as young as nine years old have already started narrowing down career options and identifying career aspirations. In addition, many adults retrospectively view childhood as the time they made decisions about their current professions.

But how do you meaningfully and appropriately engage an elementary school student in career exploration?

The emphasis in the early years is on the exploration aspect. It’s not reasonable to hold students to choices made at such a young age – just as the answer to what you want to be when you grow up is not a binding contract.

A useful career exploration program for elementary school students will encourage self-discovery. As students go deeper into understanding who they are, it assists them to determine what career they want to pursue. Self-discovery may come through the means of questionnaires, surveys, etc. 

There are also self-driven, future-readiness solutions that allow students to grow their understanding.

As elementary school students develop career awareness and students discover a variety of careers, the self-discovery component can help them recognize what careers may work for them. Career awareness can be obtained via career days, job posters, field trips, various computer resources, etc.

Finally, elementary school students can build future-readiness skills by learning vital concepts for real-world readiness. There are many computer guided programs to help with this part of career exploration.

Career Exploration Ideas for Middle School Students

With the start of middle school, students enter their teens. Just as students are maturing physically, they are also growing independent. The world of work and adulthood, while still far away, does not seem quite as distant. 

By middle school, students are approaching a time when they will need to make decisions about their postsecondary paths.  Therefore, pushing forward and going deeper into career exploration is a logical next step as it will allow the students to make more informed decisions.

One way middle schools are exposing students to career exploration is through Career & Technical Education (CTE) classes. According to the Hechinger Report, an independent non-profit education publication, “If students get on track to earn a certificate or industry-recognized credential before graduating from high school, they may more easily find work to help them pay for college should they choose to attend.” 

And since the federal government revamped the CTE ACT, school districts can spend federal money on CTE at the middle school level.

Another form of career exploration at the middle school level includes giving students exposure to careers. Although apprenticeships and internships are rarely available for middle schoolers for a variety of students, there are ways to bridge the gap. 

According to Read to Lead, a game-based learning platform that helps students develop literacy, life, and career skills, “introducing and adopting curriculum directly related to future careers is one way of exposing middle schoolers to jobs they may be pursuing in the future.”

In addition, there are multiple technology options available that give students exposure to careers. They learn about daily activities, skills/interests of those in the profession, and other facts related to the profession.

Career Exploration Activities

Career Exploration Ideas for High School Students

The argument for career exploration in high school is clear. Students are on the verge of entering the work world or attending higher education where they will need to select a major to focus on.

But expecting all high school students to know what they want to do for a profession is not realistic. Questioning students about what they want to do or what they want to major in can be stressful.

Paige Buttels, a high school counselor says:

“I’ve found that, although well-intentioned, these questions can be very daunting to students who are unsure of their career interests.” 

She emphasizes that career exploration should include a few steps to help grow students’ understanding of the work world andteach them how to conduct career research and better understand details about jobs within various career fields.”

The steps include self-reflection. Students who are uncertain about a career interest can take a career cluster inventory to help them determine a couple of fields that may suit them. Buttels also says students should have discussions with trusted adults and focus on the following questions to help them better understand themselves:

What type of difference do you want to make in the world?

What activities do you lose track of time doing because you enjoy them so much?

Would you prefer to work with your hands, objects, data, people or ideas?

The second step involves career research. After gaining an idea of career paths that may be appropriate, students should research the careers via credible sources. 

Once they have gathered this information, students can discuss it with their loved ones and school counselors to try and further determine if the potential career is a good fit.

The final step, according to Buttels, involves planning and exploration. 

Students should find ways to further explore their career interests by gaining hands-on experience and getting to know people who actually have those careers,” she says.

Simultaneously, students can take appropriate classes in high school and go for internships/apprenticeships in the field.

Career exploration helps students prepare and compete for the right jobs when they enter the working world. 

The process of career exploration can start as early as kindergarten. There are many options for helping students prepare to enter the workforce.

One option includes introducing a future readiness platform in school, such as Xello. The award-winning program enables students to explore careers and gain insight into many careers and determine which one may be right for them.

Do you have questions about how your district can help students explore various career options using Xello? Just click on the link below to book a call with our education consultants and they’ll be happy to assist.

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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.