Why Districts Should Innovate to Support Career Readiness – Part 1

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. In part one of this series we look at how some districts have supported career planning in their schools.

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. While many will choose college after high school, it’s not 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, Naviance by 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 first in a series we will share from the discussion. 

How do you approach career planning in your district?

“We look at career planning as being important from K through 12,” said Joris M. Ray, Superintendent at Shelby County Schools in Memphis, Tennessee. Indeed, the district begins exposing students to various career paths by bringing in guest speakers to its elementary schools. “We have a transition program in fifth grade, where our students visit a career location and spend time with local leaders to help decide on what they want to pursue and narrow down their career interests,” he said.

At Phoenix Union High School District in Phoenix, Arizona, multiple programs and pathways are in place to help expose students to career readiness and planning. “We’re very proud of our work with our local chamber of commerce, which is connected to a regional collaborative partnership called JAXUSA, that works with our career and technical programs to help students learn about career pathways that are available,” said Superintendent Chad E. Gestson. “We tell our students that whatever your post-secondary dreams are, we want you to fulfill them and then come back here and be part of this community.”

What role does your state play, in terms of mandates or legislation?

We have reported that 66% of Naviance students say they are on a path leading from high school to a four-year college to a career. And states across the country are implementing standards that focus on the value of career readiness, opening the door for schools and districts to instill the importance of job preparation early and often.

In Tennessee, for example, significant work is being done to institute policies to ensure that post-secondary preparedness becomes a focus for schools and districts across the state, according to Bryan Johnson, Superintendent of Hamilton County Schools in Chatanooga. “There is a Ready Graduate indicator that is part of our state accountability framework, which simply means that all students must take at least four early post-secondary opportunities, which could be CTE courses, AP/AB certification, or achieving an ACT score of 21 can serve as a replacement,” he said. 

The policy change has had a positive effect on schools, motivating them to think more expansively about their approach to career readiness. “At the system level, college and career readiness is part of our strategic plan, and three of our Focus Five Performance Targets are post- secondary related,” said Johnson. “It has transformed the way we approach our coursework and our partnerships with post-secondary institutions.” 

How do you connect college planning with career planning?

Career readiness defines the courses a student may take throughout middle and high school, the work experiences they pursue, and ultimately the training they will need – whether an apprenticeship, military service, certificate program, technical school, or a four-year college or university. 

At Wichita Public Schools in Wichita, Kansas, an internal internship program has been established in which students intern with different departments — such as finance, operations, and facilities — within the school district. 

“We also created an Aviation pathway that begins in middle school, where students can gain aviation industry certifications and take college courses at WSU Tech while in high school,” said Superintendent Alicia Thompson. “We have a partnership with Spirit AeroSystems, which is headquartered here in Wichita, so our aviation students can interview and gain employment there right after graduation. We’re trying to make these pathways lead to a successful end through these partnerships.” 

Topics college readiness K 12

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