How to Better Manage Your Career Exploration Program Initiatives

Career counselors at secondary schools have so much vying for their attention these days. A technologically driven economy is creating new fields, seemingly overnight. At the same time, students in greater numbers are deciding on future pathways that do not require a four-year degree, choosing instead to pursue options such as associate’s degrees, technical schools, apprenticeships, the military, or going straight to the workforce.

As a counselor, you may sometimes feel like you have your hands full just making sure students go to class. It’s hard enough to find the extra time to keep up with career tracks outside the four-year degree.

The challenges for your career exploration program are real and growing, but so are the solutions.

The Value of an Early Start to Career Planning

For many decades, career exploration programs have started around the ninth-grade year, with some states requiring them to begin in middle school or even as early as third grade.

New research has affirmed the benefits of engaging with students early in their studies, highlighting the importance of providing counseling support that helps students explore and engage in shaping their futures.

The key element is linking that early exploration to a counseling process that provides opportunities for students and their families to work with counselors in choosing class sequences that get them prepared for their next steps.

Given the legacy emphasis on guiding students to universities, it’s not an easy transition to make for counselors, especially given that they are increasingly overwhelmed by the numbers. Various studies suggest that there are 479 students for every counselor.

Making the shift starts with fully embracing the idea that “career exploration is not an add-on,” as one organization puts it. There are many benefits to starting early, and new tools are making it easier for counselors to do just that.

Changing Approaches with the Changing Economy

The ultimate objective of any career exploration program is to set students on the path to success. But the paths are more diverse today, involving options such as apprenticeships, the military, and vocational schools, among others.

Jobs are also changing their definition of work readiness. Some districts have begun formalizing specific programs. For example, the Cajon Valley Union School District in the San Diego area has launched the World of Work program to improve career counseling support for students. “We believe kids who align their interests with the ever-changing world of work and opportunities therein will grow into ‘Happy Adults, Engaged in Healthy Relationships, Gainfully Employed’ — the American Dream for every child,” says Superintendent Dr. David Miyashiro.

Other efforts focus on disadvantaged communities, such as teens in New York City. The Career Ready NYC program focuses on exposing students district-wide to the world of work through various partnerships between and among schools and agencies. In the Midwest, some districts are following the new “Nebraska” model for career development, with many of the same goals and objectives. As a Nebraska school official describes it: “A typical career path today does not necessarily follow the traditional course of high school, college, and long-term employment. Today, people can follow multiple pathways to education and careers. Career development equips individuals to take ownership in navigating their own career path.”

At the local level, technology can provide counselors the support that they need to maximize their time across the many potential planning pathways for students.

How to Better Manage Your Career Exploration Program

Software applications such as Choices360 have emerging capabilities to strengthen school career exploration programs.

Choices360 provides student-centered planning tools and information resources that better reflect the diverse options available post-graduation. The software’s features were informed with feedback from counselors and through focus groups.

Counselors and educators can use Choices360 to build a curriculum that students can complete based on their desired career path. The curriculum is flexible regarding students’ interests and consists of various information resources. Choices360 also has a course plan module for choosing high school courses over four to six years.

The software has built-in capabilities for tracking and measuring progress on career and college readiness, regardless of a student’s postsecondary path. It links to the Common App and allows for electronic submissions of transcripts. These tools are available for any post-secondary institution, not just four-year colleges.

Choices360 also includes information that counselors can use to educate students on various requirements for non-college pathways. This brings a more diverse dimension to career exploration programs.

Contact XAP for Your Career Exploration Program

XAP provides state-level sponsors, school districts, and individual schools with online solutions for students and adults to explore careers and discover, plan for, and apply to colleges and universities.

Here at XAP, we believe that exploration lays the foundation for planning. That’s why we help school and district counseling leaders implement equitable programs and strategies to ensure that students graduate high school not only with a diploma but also with a plan.

To see how we can help you better support your students and drive state, district, and school initiatives with greater ease, transparency, and data, feel free to contact our specialists today!

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