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Career Development for ALL Learners: Starting at the Beginning to Get Ahead

Eva Mitchell


Eva Mitchell, CEO

Coalition for Career Development Center

Scott Solberg


Dr. Scott Solberg, Vice President of Research

Coalition for Career Development Center

This first week of May marks the inaugural Youth Apprenticeship Week (YAW), a national celebration centered on the benefits and opportunities 16 to 24-year-old young adults can expect from engaging in Registered Apprenticeship programs (RAPs), including pre-apprenticeships. The “earn-and-learn” model offers ALL learners equitable, in-demand training and early career work-based learning experiences.

YAW highlights both the value youth and young adults can find in RAPs and the key role RAPs play in creating a sustainable pipeline of skilled and diverse talent for employers across a wide range of critical industries. 

But where do these apprentices come from? How do we inspire them to pursue pre-apprenticeships and RAPs? We need to start at the beginning.

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Our youngest learners have a knack for exploration. We need to use their innate sense of curiosity to get them excited about the world of work! No, we are not talking about employing five-year-olds. But we do know many five-year-olds who love to play. 

Jack is six; he enjoys baking, painting, and beading. Jill is four-and-a-half; she spends every minute outside climbing trees, running, and digging in the dirt. Jack and Jill—each a “tinkerer” in their own right—are in the midst of developing their independence and figuring out how to interact with the space around them. 

We have an opportunity at this critical stage to introduce children like Jack and Jill to the world of work. When Jack wants to bake cookies, we can talk about why we add more flour than baking powder or salt. We can make predictions before we taste test different combinations of ingredients and share our preferences for cookies baked for 10 minutes or a batch baked for 15. Jack can make predictions and share his preferences when he mixes paint colors to create his next masterpiece, too.

When Jill is digging on the playground, we can ask her what she thinks she’s going to find. Her answer might lead us into a conversation about fossils and how geography dictates what types of animal fossils or artifacts might be hiding under the wood chips. We can offer her the choice of a paint brush or shovel and explore how each tool serves a different purpose depending on when and why it’s used. 

As we promote purposeful play, we are also helping our youngest learners engage in social-emotional learning and build core skills such as problem-solving, decision making, communication, and empathy—the first steps ALL learners can take toward workforce readiness. 

Children are never too young to get excited about the world of work! If they pursue pre-apprenticeships and RAPs in food science or geology, who knows, Jack might be the next Julia Child and Jill could be the next Charles Darwin…

Did you miss our practice forum on early childhood career development? Watch a recording of the event on-demand.

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