Middle school teacher and students conducting scientific experiment
Students & Youth

K-12 career readiness needs to go beyond the vision of school leaders

The conversation about career readiness is complex and multifaceted. The literature suggests an interconnection between education and career influencers such as employers, workers and support from economic communities such as career fairs and career talks. However, in my experience living outside of Canada, career influencers at home factor into the career decision-making process for youth. Therefore, with the realization that career readiness is an interconnected process between home, school and work, how does one ensure that youth can become career-ready?

As a deeply committed career practitioner and educator, I aim to support youth and collaborate with career influencers to bridge gaps in youth career readiness. However, in my view, one cannot move forward without reflecting on how career theory shapes today’s career choices.

Nearly a century ago, Frank Parsons (1908) – known as the father of vocational guidance – identified the need to match careers to skills, talents and one’s personality (as cited by Hartung & Blustein, 2002). However, traces of career counselling are also found in the times of the Greek philosopher Plato, who made career recommendations to people (Hartung & Blustein, 2002). It can be argued that the seedlings for career readiness were planted long ago. However, I continue to ponder whether seedlings are enough. Rising youth unemployment globally raises red flags. The OECD’s 2018 PISA reports, which suggested that youth did not meet the indicators for career readiness, are not encouraging.

Maria Vitoratos will be presenting on “Changing the Conversation for Career Readiness” at CERIC’s hybrid Cannexus conference, taking place Jan. 23-25, 2023. Learn more and register at cannexus.ceric.ca.

Reflecting on the literature and economic predictions, career readiness continues to mount higher on the list of priorities for future employers and governments. However, it seems to need more of a ripple for education leaders to provide sufficient K-12 career education initiatives.

For this section of the article, I turn to my professional practice and my experience working in a private education system in the United Arab Emirates (UAE). As a career practitioner, I struggled to get a seat at the table with school leaders. It became more apparent to me with the passing years that unless the K-12 school regulators put career readiness on the school inspection’s focus, career readiness was not a school’s priority. For example, in conversations that I have had with school leaders in the UAE, they discuss time constraints and inspector requirements that leave their teachers no time to implement career readiness initiatives at their institutions. In addition, it was not uncommon the school leader to state proudly that their students have career guidance. However, the assumptions about what constituted career readiness for the leaders repeatedly focused on university acceptances for their students. From my conversations with the leaders, the assumption is that if regulator inspectors expected and required career readiness initiatives during their school visits, the school leaders would find the time to include it.

“It became more apparent to me with the passing years that unless the K-12 school regulators put career readiness on the school inspection’s focus, career readiness was not a school’s priority.”

When I left the institution and launched my career in consultancy, I was invited to speak with students, teachers and counsellors in numerous private schools in the UAE. I found that student career readiness is a priority for counsellors and school leaders. Through these conversations, I further identified that work-ready skills, alongside academic knowledge, were essential for students’ success. This is supported by research; several studies in the United States and other countries strongly suggest that career readiness must become a No. 1 priority for schools to ensure that the youth are prepared for work. In addition, youth unemployment continues remains a concern. For example, according to the Future Skills Centre (2022), Canadian students are getting advanced degrees at higher education institutions. However, they are still facing challenging times in the job market.

When I inquired into how educators defined careers, it became apparent to me that career readiness is a subjective understanding and that the complexities of career readiness may be better served if the initiatives were accompanied by benchmarks. For example, a well-defined career framework such as the Gatsby Benchmarks in the United Kingdom could be referred to by educators and counsellors while carrying out career conversations and they could also inform how youth approach the need to gain work-ready skills. Furthermore, the Government of Canada also highlighted that despite the accumulated skills the youth gained on their academic journeys, they struggle to navigate job search. In my perspective, career guidance for youth can benefit from further enhancements, which would connect the provisions provided at school and support youth with future employment.

As I ponder my perspectives on career readiness, I ask myself if and how the career conversation can change and what educators, employers and parents should do to support youth and contribute to career readiness programs. The consequences of not changing the conversation can be dire for youth and for employers that continue to face challenges in finding young talent.

In summary, career influencers must collaborate more, but the vision for career readiness should not lay in the hands of a school leader. Instead, government policies should place more accountability on schools, parents and employers to collaborate to ensure youth are on the path toward career readiness. However, I recognize that more research must be done nationally and internationally. Topics such as career discovery, creating career decision-making processes and future employability must be on the curriculum not only for the academic strivers but for all youth.

By bringing all stakeholders to the conversations to support youth, career choices can be a collaborative effort based on comprehensive knowledge. I suggest that classroom walls come down and career influencers globally support youth. From my ideal career readiness viewpoint, the unprecedented career future for a young person requires both the push and the pull from school, home and the world of work.

Maria Vitoratos is the founder of the UAE Careers Community, an independent careers consultant and an active member of the global careers community. She continues to disrupt the careers conversation from degree-focused to employability-driven.
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Maria Vitoratos is the founder of the UAE Careers Community, an independent careers consultant and an active member of the global careers community. She continues to disrupt the careers conversation from degree-focused to employability-driven.
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