Why Careers Matter More than Ever

Never before have students faced challenges from a rapidly changing career landscape as they do today. New jobs are emerging at a record pace—in green industries, health care, and robotics to name just a few. And, some jobs are becoming obsolete as a result of new societal and economic priorities as well as advancing technological applications. Taken together, these changes across every corner of the workforce bring calls from businesses for applicants to have strong technical and workforce skills in order to be competitive in the global marketplace (American Institute of Research, 2013). This is why careers matter for our students, our communities, and our economy. 

As this intersection between education, the economy, and the workforce becomes evident, education is making career exploration and development a priority and assuming some of the responsibility for ensuring students are preparing for college and careers before they graduate high school. New models of education are integrating current labor market information into career programs to identify current and future job demand as well as the postsecondary education and training required for these jobs.

These directions require multi-sector partnerships, which do not happen organically. Rather, states and districts are actively providing clear opportunities for businesses to become involved in the schools through work experiences and problem-based learning (CCSSO Task Force, 2014). Involvement of businesses and future employers is moving beyond a “tacit endorsement” of programs to measures of skills demonstrated (National Career Development, 2020). This is why careers matter to education and the economy.

As schools form partnerships with the colleges and employers to introduce career information into middle- and high-school, learning experiences become motivating, engaging, and, above all, relevant to students’ lives. With pathways leading to promising careers, students have a beacon to follow.

Students can begin to understand that what they are learning is relevant, how academic achievement can support their choices in careers, and what opportunities are available to them. With “careers matter” at the center of learning, students begin to develop a career mindset—curiosity about careers, clarity on possible career interests based on self-awareness, and confidence in decisions (Youth Career Compass, n.d). When students develop goals that will lead to meaningful lives, they make connections between academic knowledge and learning, careers, educational planning, and achievement of career aspirations. These connections support education with career readiness curricula.

Readying students for these next steps requires schools to help students understand the relevance of what they learn for future jobs and careers.

Consider the declining interest of students in middle and high school in pursuing a college education, reported through a 2012 Gates Foundation study:

  • In 8th grade, 95% of all U.S. students aspired to go to college.
  • Two years later, in 10th grade, the picture of postsecondary goals changed, with just 80% of higher-income students (in the top quintile) and 60% of the lower-income students (in the bottom quintile) still expecting to enroll in higher education.
  • Again, two years later, in 12th grade, 82% of higher-income students expected to go to college compared with only 52% of those in the lower-income quintile (Gates Foundation, 2012).

This change in educational expectations directly impacts the ability of employers to hire well-qualified applicants who reflect the diversity of communities in which their businesses are based. By holding the mirror of careers up for all students, education is supporting workforce equity in communities.

Disadvantaged and minority students, who may be less familiar with the range of jobs available to them, incorrectly assume they have limited opportunities for high-demand, high-wage careers. It is the responsibility of schools and businesses to change this lens through a proactive approach to counteract these assumptions and beliefs (Jones, Dominguez, & Durodoye, 2008). Careers matter as they inspire students to “think big” in envisioning their futures.

When students are prepared with knowledge, skills, and abilities required for the workforce, not only do they maximize opportunities for economically secure jobs, but communities also benefit. A well-trained, successful, diverse workforce results in more engagement in community life, and greater participation in activities that influence laws and policies (Jimenez, 2020). Additionally, the community becomes more attractive to businesses looking to make economic investments. 

Lastly, the impact of COVID-19 has led to an unpredictable landscape in the job market, with uncertainty among students as to what career options will be available to them. Already, this shift has increased job demand in the health sciences, at all levels, and demand for jobs that reflect concerns about our changing planet. By considering this evolving marketplace throughout the development of career pathways, students not only prepare better for careers but become the next generation of leaders (Hemmy, Stiles, & Sarro, 2020).


American Institute for Research (2013). How career and technical education can help students be college and career ready: A primer. www.air.org

CCSSO Task Force (2014, November). Opportunities and options: Making career preparation work for students. CCSSO.www.csso.org.

Gates Foundation. ( 2012 September 14). Intentional Futures. From aspiration to graduation: Dynamic affecting student success. A Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation Collaboration with Intentional Futures.  

Hemmy, A., Stiles, B., & Sarro, K. (2020, June 15). Career exploration and the impact of Covid-19. American Student Assistance (ASA) Blog. www.asa.org

Jimenez, L. (2020, Sept 14). Preparing American students for the workforce of the future: Ensuring every student’s readiness for college, career and civic life. http://www.americanprogress.org/issues/educationo-k-12/reports/2020/09/14/490338/preparing-american-students-  workforce-future/

Jones, B.C., Dominguez, S., & Dudrodoye, B. (2008, September 1). Career maturity and ethnically diverse high school students. webeditor@ncdq.org  

National Career Development (2020). 2020 virtual career readiness convening summary.https://docs.google.com/document/d/1B3pYXu7krLc5xN_luMLIjfXuAL0kCgOPBZ6161KlaWs/edit

Nebraska Dept. of Ed. (2019, Aug 6). Why career development? https://www.education.ne.gov/nce/why-career-development/

Student Research Foundation (n.d.). 21st century skills and career pathways. https://www.studentresearchfoundation.org/reseaerch/21st-century-skills/

Youth Career Compass (n.d.). The 2 keys to building a career mindset in high school. www.youthcareercompass.com/career-choice/choosing-a-career-path-in-high-school.

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