High Schoolers Should Spend More Time Career Planning

When is the right time to start utilizing a skills-based approach? I think in high school. In my opinion, high school students should spend more time contemplating what they want to accomplish with their career. For most graduating seniors (sixty-six percent of 2012 graduates[1]), the next step is going to college – a significant financial investment on par with buying a house. Some graduating seniors are already mature and ready for college, while others have circumstances that make it difficult to even think about college.  And I understand there is a huge social component in the lives of high school students. Whatever the case, I would like to see high schools play a more active role in preparing their students for the next step – it is costly and impactful so should not be taken lightly!

There are a few actions high schools should consider:

  • A required class for juniors and seniors on career planning and development (probably the best option).
  • Make meeting with counselors for a certain amount of time mandatory (enough time to cover the topics discussed below).
  • Request a complete career plan from each student that demonstrates they have considered their career options.

Let’s employ counselors to make a real contribution in the careers of their students; according to a survey in an article Report: High School Guidance Counselors Underutilized:

“Nearly seventy percent of high school counselors say they are tasked with administrative and clerical duties.”[2]

With a class or sessions, high school guidance counselors support juniors and seniors in: exploring different professions including expectations and their future demand, providing tests to become more self-aware (so students understand their core competencies, inner motivations, and values), and presenting what their learning options are with a cost and benefit analysis. There are online resources to support this whole discovery process. A skills-based approach is based on developing a skill set over a career and is not necessarily rooted in degrees and professions, so there is flexibility and leeway for students who will probably change their career plans.

The result is a career plan – a skill set and an action plan to learn and build an expertise with each skill (as proposed in the planning stage of a skills-based approach). So as students sign up for college courses, they follow their plan and choose ones that build their desired technical and transferable skills (whenever they can, some classes are required). Transferable skills like computational thinking, problem solving, and virtual collaboration will be in high demand in the future, so students should plan to learn these skills and colleges should provide courses to teach them. Considering the high tuition costs at universities/colleges, every course a student takes should have a purpose in building desired skills. Of course, there is an occasional exception for taking an elective because it is interesting (one of my favorite courses in college was about Native Americans and it did not correlate with my career).

The other objective in career planning with high school students is to prepare them to do well in college. High school students should understand the magnitude of their (and probably their parents’) investment and put forth their best effort to do well right from the start. For example, it does not make sense for freshman to frequently skip morning lectures because they cannot wake up on time. Let’s say a student pays $700 for a course, and there are thirty classes so the cost per class is about $23 – that is a lot of money to waste on a given day, probably more than a college student makes in an hour during a summer job. The first year of college should not be considered a time to slack off or find my way or social experience (or any other excuse for not performing well).  A college experience is important, but a college education is more important.

Skills-Based Approach

Skills-Based Approach is a methodology centered on the development of a skill set over a career; it is a progression in four stages: planning, building, presenting, and validating. Each stage has proposed ways to achieve its objectives.

[2] Kelsey Sheehy, “Report: High School Guidance Counselors Underutilized,” US News, November 30th, 2012.

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