Elementary-Level Career Awareness: A Strong Foundation for Career Technical Education

This post is written by Kuder, Inc., a Diamond Level sponsor of the 2019 Advance CTE Spring Meeting.

Advocates of Career Technical Education (CTE) know that learners should have access to career awareness, exploration and planning activities from elementary school all the way through postsecondary education. But all too often, career advising and development only occur in middle school or high school.

There is still much work to be done to ensure that our youngest learners can confidently identify and develop meaningful life goals — and become productive citizens, leaders, scholars, and innovators.

As children begin to exhibit preferences and non-preferences, we should capitalize on their budding self-awareness by promoting their curiosity about careers and exposing them to the world of work with web-based and traditional career guidance interventions.

According to Dr. Julie Cerrito, assistant professor of counseling and human services at The University of Scranton, conversations centered on careers often don’t begin until middle school or later.

“Career theorists identify the period of childhood as a critical stage in the process of lifelong career development, but there is often a void when it comes to bridging that theory with actual practice,” she said.

Dr. Cerrito has conducted research on both web‐based and traditional career guidance interventions by measuring the effects each one has on the career development progression of fourth‐ and fifth‐grade students.

Her research demonstrates that online learning systems may offer unique benefits when combined with traditional classroom instruction. Due to demands placed on school counselors, web-based career guidance programs are often student-initiated, thus saving school counselors valuable time (The Career Development Quarterly, 2018).

In Dr. Cerrito’s home state of Pennsylvania, the state’s Career Education and Work Standards (part of the State Board of Education’s regulations of required education), includes academic standards, student learning objectives for school counselors and resources to reach benchmarks beginning as early as the third grade.

The Conrad Weiser Area School District in Pennsylvania’s Berks County leverages Kuder Galaxy®, a web-based early career awareness system, to implement the PA Career Education and Work Standards for its K- through fourth-grade students.

“Galaxy incorporates fun and interactive gaming to allow our elementary students to explore and become aware of the many jobs available,” said Lisa Oxenreider, a school counselor at the district’s Conrad Weiser West Elementary. “It is important, [even] at the elementary level, to give meaning and purpose to school; to get students excited about their futures and help them realize there is a job for everyone!”

Oklahoma’s CareerTech system, operated by the Oklahoma Department of Career and Technology Education, recognizes the value in setting the stage for career readiness as early as pre-Kindergarten.

Earlier this spring, CareerTech launched Galaxy as a component of OKCareerguide.org — a system that had previously served sixth-grade students through postsecondary and adult users. Now, from pre-K through adulthood, Oklahomans of all ages and stages of life can access the system’s lifelong college and career readiness tools and resources.

According to Erica Harris, OK Career Guide coordinator, OK CareerTech fosters relationships with school counselors and other educators by providing resources and professional development for schools to strategize and collaborate on vertical PK-12 alignment of career development offerings.

“The greatest achievement of the OK Career Guide is the awareness that career development is not something that just starts your senior year of high school,” Harris said. “Research shows that students begin to eliminate career options and their capabilities as early as third grade. This only makes career awareness and exploration a critical need to be addressed with elementary students.”

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