In his last State of the Union address, President Biden outlined his administration’s vision for ensuring today’s youth and young adults gain access to meaningful occupational pathways that lead to social mobility and the American Dream. “Let’s offer every American a path to a good career whether they go to college of not,” he said.
We at the CCD Center couldn’t agree more.
Given our mission to make career readiness the first priority of American education, we are heartened by those sentiments and by actions being taken around our nation’s infrastructure, particularly the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act (IIJA). The IIJA offers hope for addressing many of our nation's challenges, from improving roads and bridges to ensuring high-speed internet access—but it will also bring workforce-related challenges and opportunities. Business and Industry will need to expand their workforces in response to the increased demand for skilled labor, so we need a national strategy to develop a talent pipeline for these opportunities.
That’s where a high-quality, national Career Readiness Infrastructure will come in, and now is the time to focus our education and workforce systems on the following action steps:
——Invest in an army of career service professionals. An effective Career Readiness Infrastructure demands an army of certified career service professionals, including career coaches, school counselors, career development facilitators, career specialists, human resource professionals and licensed psychologists, who provide quality individualized career services and programs. Each contributes to a shared goal: to ensure our nation’s youth and young adults are guaranteed lifespan access to quality individualized career services.
——Develop lifelong evolving and adaptable individualized career plans. Career support services and programs should be organized around helping each person shape their own career plan. Effective individualized career plans include three elements:
Discovery of one’s skills and talent;
Exploration of how one’s emerging skills and talent transfer into a wide range of occupational pathways such as those emerging from the IIJA; and
Formation of a career management plan that describes personalized pathways to navigate into those occupations.
——Expand children’s awareness of occupational possibilities and the pathways that lead to these exciting opportunities. If preschool-aged children cannot imagine themselves participating in an occupation before entering Kindergarten, then, in their mind, that profession does not exist. Beginning in early childhood, career specialists can support the design of visual and print media and interactive museums so that our young children are exposed to role models and can imagine themselves pursuing a wide range of opportunities in the future.
——Deploy more school counselors. The elementary and secondary school curriculum is designed to develop our children’s “durable skills”—skills that are proven to improve academic learning, increase mental health and enhance workforce marketability. Informed by meaningful conversations with employers, elementary school counselors are well-positioned to create programs that help children and youth track their durable skills development. Classroom educators can implement these activities with their students and promote family engagement to help them explore how their durable skills transfer into the world of work and identify a range of learning pathways that lead to those employment opportunities. Later, middle and high school counselors can build on those activities and implement fully inclusive, individualized career plan programs.
——Certify advisors and student service personnel as career advisors and coaches. Individualized career plans benefit young adults in postsecondary training, two-year, and four-year colleges. Advisors and student services personnel turned career advisors and coaches can collaborate with faculty to strategize how their coursework and programs will continue to develop students’ durable skills as well as regional industry-aligned technical skills.
——Invest in a special unit of career coaches. Focused, community-based career coaches must reengage the many people who tend to remain unemployed or who don’t enroll in a post-secondary education or training program—especially people with disabilities, those transitioning from serving our country or returning from the criminal justice system, and individuals who disengage from work if they struggle to find well-matched employment opportunities. Leveraging the individualized career plan strategy aligned with our American Job Centers’ Individualized Plans for Employment, this special unity can adopt a trauma-informed approach and connect with available community resources to address young and returning professionals’ multiple needs.
——Certify human resource professionals as career coaches. The individualized career plan process also benefits working adults. With proper training, human resource professionals can utilize this process to ensure their employees continue a path to achieve social mobility and accumulate generational wealth. Individualized career plans also help working adults continue to develop their talent and skills broadening future employment avenues.
As we look ahead, the call to action is clear: invest in and prioritize career readiness for all. Aligned with President Biden’s conviction, building our nation’s Career Readiness Infrastructure meets Business and Industry needs to fill high-demand, good jobs with qualified talent and offers youth and young adults the opportunity for a promising and successful future.
V. Scott H. Solberg, Vice President for Research, Coalition for Career Development Center, and Boston University Professor and Co-director for the Wheelock College Center for Future Readiness.