6 Tactics to Get Students Excited about Career Exploration

By Crissy Lauterbach - March 24, 2017


“What do you want to be when you grow up?” Ask a five-year-old this question and answers come rapidly: “Fireman, teacher, doctor, or Super Girl.” Ask the same question of a sixteen-year-old and crickets can often be heard or the exasperated quip, “I don’t know.” Blasé is not good enough for me. As educators, we need to reignite the passion in America’s youth and guide their career exploration.

How can we do that?

1. Get real.

When comparing the rate that students are being pushed to college and the actual labor forecast of jobs requiring a college degree, Kenneth Gray author of “GETTING REAL; Helping Teens Find Their Future.” found that the High-Skills/High Wage workforce will only require 10% professionals (college trained), and 20% technicians (some college, postsecondary or technical training), leaving 70% of operative jobs that may not require more than a high school diploma. 


This will result in a large number of grey collar jobs or students with college degrees working at a lower than expected salary or being overqualified for the majority of available jobs. This begs the question: “Why are we pushing students into college who are not academically or socially ready?” 


Strapping people with college debt and sending them out into a limited workforce is setting them up for failure. As a visioning exercise, I have my students create a collage of their future lifestyle ten years from now. They must include the style of house, car, hobbies, pets, any vacations they want to take, and size of their family. Afterwards, they complete a web comparison on the yearly price of each of their collage pictures. Once they have established a yearly lifestyle cost, they use the results from their simple online career finder survey to see if their future job will be able to provide their desired lifestyle. Their dreams often become more grounded after a realistic conversation of wants and needs and how they would like to spend their future. Real talk for real life.


2. Create a career plan by 7th grade.

Many states have requirements related to career plans, but what happens when it’s done? Often, it just sits on paper. Think of the next steps and take action! Organize a tour of your local career or technical school, community college, or university to expose students to what is available in their own backyard. Most students are amazed that our Career Technical Center offers links to and information on a variety of job fields, from auto collision to an international business academy at the high school level.  The depth of our adult education classes also impresses. 


Gray believes that seventh graders should have at least two career options that interest them or they would be considered career immature and may actually have a more difficult time succeeding in college due to this lack of career exploration. 


Career planning must become a priority for every family and every classroom if we want our students to succeed in the workforce and beyond.


3. Get involved.

I ask my students what they like to do in their free time and use this information to guide my advice for how to get involved. For many, I suggest that they volunteer several hours at a place that fosters their interests. If a student loves animals, encourage them to volunteer at a local animal shelter. While there, they have to create a career web showing how many people it takes to run the shelter, including cage cleaners to grant writers and everyone in between. 


We examine each position and explore education/training level, time on job, salary/benefits, and personal benefits from executing the job. Students begin to see the large network it takes in any place of business and it helps student narrow down jobs they are willing or not willing to execute. My student realized he was not academically inclined for veterinary school, but he had the skills to be a vet tech and pursued his certification at our local community college. If you do what you love, it will never be called work.



4. Get experience.


Do not wait for Take Your Child to Work Day to help your child explore the work world. You can create internships within your own friend or family network that match your child’s interests. My 7th grade stepson Carter interns with local computer experts on his holiday breaks. He learned there is more to IT than just game development and that he wants an IT job that is not located remotely or in a cubicle. Carter is playing to his strengths and searching out local CTE  programs to further his career choice. There are many ways to gain experience and learn about workforce realities including watching career profile videos like those found on VirtualJobShadow.com.


5. Get information.


Start researching what it takes to work in your field of interest. Often, jobseekers don’t even know about the careers that are available to them. Many of the jobs of the future aren’t even known yet. Currently there is buzz about new careers like Demand Optimizers or Guardians of Privacy. What are these positions, you may ask. Exactly, I didn’t know about either of these careers until I stumbled across Thomas Frey’s article “162 Future Jobs; Preparing for Jobs that Don’t Yet Exist.”  With automation replacing almost two billion workers in the next fifteen years, the current job descriptions and demands are going to shift and mold to a new economy. We must prepare our students for their future and not our past.


6. Get out there.


Encourage students to create a LinkedIn page. Currently, LinkedIn has over 467 million users globally that represent over 200 countries (www.statista.com). Tell students to search for members that are currently working in their chosen field. It is not finding career connections that is important, but the experience of creating a visual measure of the student’s current skill set. As they fill out their personal featured skill and endorsements, education level, and accomplishments, they will physically see the large gap in training, education, and prerequisite skills for a competitive global workforce. Finding their current skill deficits is a great motivator when there are courses and CTE programs to fill those deficits at your disposal. It is a great scheduling tool for parents, teacher, and guidance counselors. For many students a space like VirtualJobShadow can provide them with the career exploration resources they seek.


A strong, passionate workforce is the goal of every teacher (and citizen!). Get your students out there planning, experiencing, and taking an active role in shaping their future. 


About Us


VirtualJobShadow.com provides career exploration for K-12, post- secondary institutions and workforce development programs nationwide. It is used throughout the country for career readiness and planning in school districts, colleges, career centers and workforce agencies, offering an interactive, practical approach with multiple resources for work-based learning and career planning.



About the Writer

Ms. Lauterbach currently teaches at D.Russel Lee Career and Technical Center in Hamilton, Ohio. She completed her graduate work in Educational Leadership and Curriculum at the University of Dayton and earned a Masters in Administration. Ms. Lauterbach is a member of several professional organizations and a sought after public speaker. Crissy was the keynote speaker for the Department of Defense Schools’ International Future Educators Association in Garmisch, Germany. Since 2002, Crissy has been an Advisor for the Educators Rising, Phi Delta Kappa, and an annual presenter at the Educators Rising National Conference for the past seven years. In 2014, she became the first National Teacher in Residence for Educators Rising and in 2015 she was named the White House Innovator in Career and Technical Education. Crissy is a member of ACTE, OACTE, and the Ohio Council of Social Studies.


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