Adults have the task of creating an environment that fosters engagement in learning. Children are ready for workforce preparation experiences at early ages, but the experiences must be developmentally appropriate. Children need to be provided exposure to a wide variety of career options.
Occupational stereotypes are alive and well as early as the preschool years. These stereotypes may be particularly difficult to combat as time goes on. Many stereotypes develop and education must start early to prevent making premature judgments without adequate exploration of all options.
• Explore work (chores) that children are presently able to perform at home and in school. Compare jobs between youth of different ages to find that everyone can do something and that all jobs have a value.
• Visits by parents and other adult workers who wear their workplace clothing/uniform and explain what they do in their job.
• Work as play – learning experiences around “created” work environment such as a construction site, post office and health clinic. Considerations include: role models of diversity and gender; dramatic play, “family days” around work environments; relating play activities to skills and competencies.
• Although children in the school-age years have given thought to their future, this is not the time to push them into decisions that restrict their future career exploration and attainment.
• A great way to explore different careers are organized field trips in the community. Discuss the benefit of having someone perform this work in the community. A culminating activity could include setting up a community in which each child plays out their “job” while “visitors” come to their town.
• Vehicle days with exhibits of vehicles/machinery used in various occupations. The operators of each vehicle/machine explain the use and demonstrate what the equipment can do.
• Visits made by student learners to workplaces. Learners experience how to use some of the equipment and their application to the job.
• More elaboration of above activities. Entrepreneurship begins by organizing groups to find ways to make money and focus on aspects of experience in basic skills and competencies.
Career Awareness and Exploration
Children are ready for workforce preparation experiences at early ages, but the experiences must be developmentally appropriate
Young children are definitely ready for experiences that actively engage them in learning about the world of work. Activities should examine what children do at home and at school, what they see around them in the community, and how their interests and abilities relate to work.
Career learning experiences must be intentional
The development of life skills is not an automatic outcome. Many times activities such as career days and field trips are conducted, but are not connected to some larger goals or framework of career development. Specific attention to the world of work concepts may be necessary to make these connections obvious.
Provide for active learning experiences that involve active exploration of the world of work
It is important that children don’t just learn about work, they get to do work. One way to get work experience is to provide opportunities for volunteer and community service experiences. Exposure to the workplace increases knowledge about jobs, the skills used on the job, and the education and training required to get that job.
Provide exposure to a wide variety of career options
Youth cannot choose to pursue a career path if they do not know it exists! Elementary school students generally select a relatively narrow range of career options. Furthermore, they aspire to certain highly visible jobs, such as entertainer and professional athlete. Therefore, it is important to present a wide range of careers, including those with different educational requirements.
Provide exposure to career role models
Children’s interests may be expanded or limited by the amount and type of role models with whom they come in contact. Exposure to role models is an important factor in career decision making. When students see people like themselves in a field, they are much more likely to create goals for themselves within that field because it appears more accessible.
Focus on skills that would be required for any job
Life skills may be developed in many contexts. They include skills such as learning to work well with others, to make decisions, and to act as a leader. These skills should be present in activities for youth because they are skills that will be useful no matter what job their future holds. Moreover, they are skills that will serve them well in the present!
Focus on the processes necessary for workforce and career preparation, not just the content of the choice
Career decision making is not simply a matter of picking a particular occupation, but it is a decision making and problem solving process. Students who are less confident in their ability to complete tasks and behaviors required for effective decision making are also more likely to be undecided about their career. A goal of workforce preparation should be the creation of sense of purpose and future.
Once is not enough
Career development is enhanced when individuals have the opportunity to be exposed to the widest possible array of learning experiences. Participation in career development activities, exposure to role models, and engagement in workforce experiences should happen more than once and in more than one way.
Reading books can help students learn about jobs and careers directly and indirectly. Students can read books specifically geared toward teaching about a certain career or students can discover what careers characters within books may have.
Exploring Careers Online
Assignments to research careers online can help students gain a better understanding of what jobs exist and what skills are required to perform certain jobs. Even exploring what requirements such as training classes or college courses that are needed for a certain job can help students understand what it takes to succeed in certain careers. Students could share this information in a type of “career fair” with other students to maximize the potential of this activity.
Career Fairs and Career Days
These experiences provide youth with an opportunity to meet professionals from job fields they’re considering. At a career fair or career day, youth can ask questions that are important for finding out if a job or career area is a good match for them. Take advantage of any opportunity to get students talking to professionals in a variety of career pathways.
Typically during a job shadowing expereince, youth spend a couple of hours or even a day with a professional, observing or participating with them at work. They get a chance to ask them questions about that line of work.
Encourage your students to consider learning more about the world of work through volunteer or community service opportunities. Perhaps your school even has graduation requirements where stuents have to volunteer for a specific amount of hours. Help your students understand how volunteer work helps them build many of the work skills they need for any job, such as: