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Our Nation Needs a Career Readiness Infrastructure

“Let’s finish the job and connect students to career opportunities starting in high school. Provide access to two years of community college, the best career training in America, in addition to being a pathway to a four-year degree. Let’s offer every American a path to a good career whether they go to college or not.” - President Biden, State of the Union Address

As an industry-led organization, the Coalition for Career Development Center, in collaboration with the Boston University Wheelock Center for Future Readiness, applauds the Biden administration’s vision for ensuring today’s youth and young adults gain access to occupational pathways leading to social mobility and the American Dream.

The Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act offers hope for addressing so many of our Nation's challenges from improving roads and bridges to ensuring high-speed internet access. To respond to the increase in demand, Industry and Business will need to expand their workforce and we need a national strategy to develop the talent and interest in these opportunities.

To do this, we must complement the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act by investing in building our Nation’s Career Readiness Infrastructure. A high-quality Career Readiness Infrastructure demands that we establish an army of certified career service professionals who provide quality individualized career services and programs. This army of career professionals come in many forms such as career coaches, school counselors, career development facilitators, career specialists, human resource professionals and licensed psychologists. Each has a significant role to play to ensure lifespan access to quality individualized career services.

Individualized career services and programs should be organized around helping everyone develop an individualized career plan that is updated throughout the lifespan. Three elements of the individualized career plan include discovery of one’s skills and talent, and exploration of how one’s emerging skills and talent transfer into a wide range of occupational pathways, such as those emerging from the Infrastructure Investment Jobs Act, and a career management plan that describes personalized pathways to navigate into those occupations.

And yes Mr. President: “Let’s offer every American a path to a good career whether they go to college or not.”

Beginning in early childhood, these services should strive to expand children’s awareness of the many possibilities that exist in the world of work and the pathways that lead to these exciting possibilities. If preschool age children cannot imagine themselves participating in an occupation before entering Kindergarten, then, in their mind, it does not exist. Career specialists are needed to support the design of visual and print media and interactive museums so that our young children see role models and thereby can imagine themselves pursuing a wide range of future opportunities.

Elementary and secondary education develops our children’s “durable skills” which are proven to improve academic learning, increase mental health, and prepare them with the human skills that are in high-demand among employers. We must deploy more school counselors in elementary school settings who can design programs that are facilitated by educators and include family engagement so that our children and youth regularly chart the development of these durable skills. They need meaningful conversations with employers who can help them explore how these durable skills transfer into the world of work as well as help them identify a range of learning pathways that lead to those opportunities.

Most states encourage or mandate schools to create individualized career plans with students from middle school through high school. We need to deploy more school counselors into middle and high schools who can establish fully inclusive individualized career plan programs that are co-designed and facilitated by educators. We must ensure every student and their family access early college and work-based learning opportunities that build the confidence and skills needed to graduate with clear pathways to good jobs Individualized career plans must continue in postsecondary training, two-year, and four-year colleges. To achieve this, we must certify advisors and student services personnel to become career advisors and coaches who can co-design with faculty the strategies needed to ensure their programs continue to develop durable skills as well as the technical skills that align with regional industry needs. Rather than job placement services, college career services need to help young and returning adults examine their transferable talent and skills within the context of the wide range of occupational opportunities that exist so that they enter training programs and majors with a clear understanding of its relevance to preparing them for the future world of work.

We are losing many young and returning adults along the way. Many are people with disabilities. We need to invest in a special unit of career coaches that are deployed into a wide range of community settings to reconnect those who have left school, have served our country, are transitioning from court-involvement, or struggling to find customized employment solutions or have fallen “off the grid” and are not working or enrolled in education/training. In addition to using an individualized career plan strategy that aligns with our One-Stop Career Center’s Individualized Plan for Employment, this special unit must use a trauma-informed approach and connect with the community resources needed to address multiple needs. This could use federal or state matching funds to ensure career coaches who are embedded in organizations disconnected youth and adults receive the living wage they deserve.

We must also continue supporting our working adults by certifying human resource professionals as career coaches so they can use an individualized career plan process to ensure their employees continue a pathway to social mobility and accumulation of generational wealth. Working adults also need individualized career plans to become strategic in continuing to develop their talent and skills in ways that expand future employment opportunities when the economic conditions of their employer change.

Building our Nation’s Career Readiness Infrastructure supports business and industry’s need to attract youth and adults into the high-demand opportunities emerging from the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act as well as ensures that our youth and young adults' chart occupational pathways leading to the American Dream of social mobility and the accumulation of generational wealth.

Our Coalition for Career Development Center in collaboration with the Boston University Wheelock Center for Future Readiness is actively designing our Nation’s Career Readiness Infrastructure by:
  • Working with PBSKids to design media programming for young children aged 3-6 that offer positive role models in occupations for which their demographic backgrounds remain underrepresented.

  • Building state and local education capacity to implement quality individualized career plans in

  • middle and high school. While our policy recommendations cover about 32 million of the estimated 49 million middle and high school-age youth in the U.S., our Coalition is advocating for ways to braid federal, state, and philanthropic funding that will result in increasing the number of school counselors who specialize in career advising and planning and provide professional development to education agencies and youth-serving organizations.

  • Advocating for increasing funding to deploy more School Counselors, especially in elementary settings. Our 2022 report on the Condition of Career Readiness in the United States found that the national student-to-school counselor ratio average is 800 to 1. We have a mental health crisis in our schools, and we need more counselors in high schools to help them discover a brighter future. Our Coalition is extremely interested in building school counselors' capacity to engage in career readiness activities that build strong student identity and awareness of their many future opportunities.

  • Building cross-sector capacity to engage in quality career advising and individualized career planning by creating seamless pathways that enable youth to access early college and connected learning opportunities so they can experience the world of work before leaving high school. Our Coalition is proud to be designing the career advising and individualized career plan framework in six communities that are participating in the New Skills Ready Network led by Education Strategy Group and AdvanceCTE with funding from JP Morgan Chase.

  • Ensuring Disconnected/Opportunity youth and young adults receive quality career advising and individualized career plan services. While our unemployment rate is below 5%, our forthcoming 2023 report on the Condition of Career Readiness in the U.S. indicates that 10% of our young adults aged 10-24 are not participating. Our Coalition is collaborating with several philanthropic groups to design the career readiness infrastructure needed to mobilize a special unit of career coaches who are ready to use a trauma-informed individualized career plan strategy and able to access the wrap-around services needed to connect young adults to education, training and occupation pathways leading to social mobility and the accumulation of generational wealth.

  • Building capacity within two-year and four-year postsecondary settings to embed career advising and individualized career plan strategies throughout the college experience. Our forthcoming 2023 Condition of Career Readiness Report continues to shed light on the fact that we graduate less than a 1/3 of first-time entry two-year college students. Our Coalition is beginning a collaboration with seven two-year colleges to demonstrate how career advising using an individualized career plan strategy increases retention and completion rates.

  • Designing state policies that ensure sources of federal funding are being used to fully implement existing required and allowable career readiness advising and planning activities. Our Coalition’s forthcoming 2023 Condition of Career Readiness Report identifies how required and allowable career readiness activities can be organized using individualized career plans. We will be working with other organizations to design and encourage states to adopt model individualized learning plan policies.

  • Building capacity within industry and business to embed quality career readiness activities for their employees. Our Coalition’s forthcoming 2023 Condition of Career Readiness Report will show that most adults are not increasing their wage earnings beyond early adulthood. We aim to partner with HR (Human Resources) organizations to create a career readiness specialty modeled around our individualized career planning model that ensures all workers continue gathering the skills and training that will enable them to become promoted and secure living wages.

Our Coalition joins with President Biden’s call to “finish the job” by striving to make career readiness the number one priority in American education and workforce development. By establishing a lifelong Career Readiness Infrastructure, our Nation’s youth and adults will become future ready and possess the skills and resilience needed to proactively navigate into occupations afforded by the Infrastructure Investment Jobs Act. In doing so, our youth and adults design clear occupational pathways to the American Dream of social mobility and the accumulation of generational wealth.

V. Scott H. Solberg, Vice President for Research, Coalition for Career Development Center, and Boston University Professor and codirector for the Wheelock College Center for Future Readiness.

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