There’s no doubt that almost all of us have been asked (or asked the children around us) “What do you want to be when you grow up?”. Answers often include ‘doctor’, ‘teacher’, ‘astronaut’ and ‘firefighter’. But what about other jobs that students could take on in the future, jobs critical to our economy but that usually fall under the radar – accountant, researcher, web developer? The likely reason why children don’t aspire to these jobs is a lack of exposure – children can’t aspire toward careers they know nothing about.
It is important for students to be aware of the career paths and professional options available to them from an early age. This can have a huge impact on the career choices they make, and even more crucially, early career exposure can be a determinant of future career success.
Why is career exposure in middle school critical to success?
Early exposure to careers is important in guiding children to future career choices. Introducing students in middle school to a wide variety of career options is an excellent way of providing them with the agency in making decisions about careers. For example, research shows that students who do not express STEM-related aspirations at age 10 are unlikely to develop them by the age of 14, giving further credence to the belief that career exposure in middle school has a significant impact on influencing students’ future career choices and pursuits.
In a trend that is gaining traction around the country, more and more school districts are promoting career exploration to younger students. This comes from a place of not only increasing student engagement but also helping them make better-informed decisions about the educational and career paths they would like to pursue in the future. By providing student access to hands-on tools and resources such as Fab Labs, schools cultivate an interest in related careers and enable students to envision themselves stepping into such roles in the future.
As young people spend more time in formal education, it is often the case that they do not have real exposure to the working world until their 20s. It is ever more important in this situation to help students bridge the gap between curriculum and career by offering opportunities for career exploration in school. Helping students see the relevance between their core curriculum and future careers can inspire them to remain engaged and motivate them to strive for success.
How can schools incorporate career exposure as early as middle school?
Apprenticeships and internships are the most obvious ways of generating career exposure, yet this presents challenges at the middle school level. Employers may view middle schoolers as too immature to benefit from being at the workplace, and practical concerns of getting to job sites or legal concerns surrounding child labor come into play.
Introducing and adopting curriculum directly related to future careers is one way of exposing middle schoolers to jobs they may be pursuing in the future. For example, EiE®, a curriculum program developed by the Museum of Science, Boston, aims to introduce STEM education and spark interest in engineering and related fields among children the K-8 grades.
Technology is another useful tool for career exploration, particularly at the middle school level. Read to Lead®️, provides students with access to three digital learning games in careers relevant to students. Within this immersive platform, students learn more about professional roles such as medical secretary, social media editor, community center director and more (image below). They are also able to see for themselves the relevance of the content and skills they learn in school.
While it may be more challenging for educators to engage in career exploration with middle school students, it is critical in positioning them for future career success. Only by providing our students with the tools, resources, and information to make well-informed decisions about their educational and professional choices, will they be able to seize the opportunities that present themselves in the future.
Ready to help your students explore new careers and learn how to be the BOSS? Sign up for our free literacy and leadership platform, designed for grades 5th-9th!