Why Districts Should Innovate to Support Career Readiness – Part 2

This three-part series illuminates why and how superintendents across the country are creating greater workforce development, career readiness, and real-world work experience for students. Download the full white paper Developing New and Innovative Approaches to Support Career Readiness, here.

If students are to be career-ready, they need to be exposed to career exploration and career learning opportunities as early as middle school and throughout the high school years. And if students are to reach their best-fit careers, they must follow their own unique paths after high school. The path could include enrolling in a trade school, community college or four-year institution, entering the workforce, enlisting in the military, or a combination of these.

With an increased emphasis on the importance of aligning all types of pathways to drive career outcomes for students, schools and districts are required to expose students to a broader range of post-high school opportunities besides college. We have reported that 66% of our Naviance students say they are on a path leading from high school to a four-year college to a career. But this is far from the only path worth considering. So, schools and districts now must ensure that students have the chance to explore all of their options. 

To illuminate the value of innovation when it comes to career readiness, Hobsons and District Administration have put out a new white paper, Developing New and Innovative Approaches to Support Career Readiness. We asked leading superintendents across the country about how their districts are including workforce development and real-world work experience in their career readiness programs. The following questions and answers — edited for length and clarity — are the second set in a series we are sharing from the discussion. 

At Hobsons, we know that real-world career learning opportunities are key. Access to work-based learning opportunities allows students to enhance their career research and planning, ultimately paving the way for them to meet their future career goals. Work-based learning offers the capability to present the opportunities to help students determine if their interests lead to a good career fit.

In Chattanooga, Tennessee, hundreds of students at Hamilton County Schools participate in internships with local businesses. “Career has a strong meaning for us,” said Superintendent Bryan Johnson. “This work is not just about finding a job, it’s about pursuing a career and finding what you’re good at and passionate about.”

The district also runs a program called Future Ready Institutes, “which are career academy schools within schools,” said Johnson. “We’re very blessed to have an extremely engaged local business community and chamber of commerce, and an organization called Chattanooga 2.0 that spearheads our work.” 

In Phoenix, Arizona, the Phoenix Union High School District has developed a partnership with local trade unions, which provide paid internships for students. The district prioritizes paid internship opportunities, but also looks to work with companies that will hire students and pay their college tuition once hired. “We serve primarily low-income youth and so it’s important to us that if they choose a career after high school, that it is a high wage career,” said Superintendent Chad E. Gestson.

The district also launched a computer programming high school that offers programs in coding, cybersecurity, networking, and software development. “We have many unique partnerships within that school,” said Gestson, “some of which offer paid opportunities.”

“The goal of our marketing is to make students aware of all the programs that are available to them,” said Diana L. Greene, Superintendent of Duval County Public Schools Jacksonville, Florida. “We outline all our academies, and we identify which ones are sponsored by a corporation with a goal of hiring, so students know that they could get a job in that program.”

In Kansas, Wichita Public Schools has aBusiness and Education Alliance in which local business leaders and educators meet regularly to discuss internships, mentorships, and career exploration opportunities. “We have advisory committees for each of our 26 pathways that include representatives from companies and businesses interested in or related to that subject area,” said Superintendent Alicia Thompson, “and we rely on them for marketing and outreach to help build our internship and mentorship programs.” 

“A challenge for us has been getting the business community in nearby Richmond and Petersburg to understand the benefits of having partnerships with our co-op programs and offering internships for students,” said Merv Daugherty,Superintendent of Chesterfield County Public Schools in Chesterfield, Virginia. 

To that end, Daugherty’s district has been working to get its high schools to allow half schedules, co-op programs and partnerships to increase internship opportunities. “We’re trying to expand our programs because we believe that every student should have an internship during their senior year, not just students in career programs.”

For Gestson’s district in Phoenix,outdated state legislation has been one hurdle. “Across the country, K-12 education is ready and willing to think and operate differently, but some outdated policies and legislation can stand in the way. Also, there is often a misconception in the business community that they must wait until students are age 18 to have an internship. We’ve been using our chamber of commerce to raise awareness with businesses and enable 16- and 17-year-old students to get internships.”

Superintendent Johnson agrees that antiquated laws are a problem. “We’re hoping for new legislation that will change or update the requirements for teachers and licensure for teaching post-secondary courses. We are challenged by many students having limited transportation options, so we want to offer as many post-secondary options on campus as possible.” 

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Topics college readiness K 12

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