Meaningful career exploration for students transcends the traditional one-day event, like a career fair. It requires a sustained series of opportunities that inform students about various careers and empower them to envision themselves as active participants in these fields. This approach becomes incredibly impactful when focusing on high-value careers that are not only in-demand and high-wage but also align with future workforce needs, guiding students towards informed academic choices that pave the way to successful careers. 

Prioritizing and funding Career Exploration in Middle School

One of the well-received changes in the most recent Carl. D. Perkins Vocational and Technical Education Act (Perkins V), which became law in 2018. Another change was that Career and Technical Education programs needed to be aligned with their local communities’ current and future workforce needs. So, as states and districts extend their CTE programs into middle schools, there is an excellent opportunity to improve equity in career exposure and preparation, ultimately building a robust local workforce by strengthening the bridge from education to employment.  

The importance of Career Exploration in grades 6-8 was the subject of a national study called Extending the Runway: A National Analysis of Middle School Career Exploration. Conducted by American Student Assistance and the Education Study Group, the authors compiled a state-by-state analysis of how these efforts are advancing in state vision, policy, and infrastructure. The authors also evaluated student voice through a Student Advisory Council of 6th to 8th graders from five states who weighed in on their career exploration experiences in schools. 

Key findings of the report revealed: 

  • Students are eager to learn more about careers, but the activities they are participating in are not necessarily helping them plan their careers for the long term. 
  • While most states are funding and prioritizing Career Exploration in middle school, less than one in five are evaluating the impact on data, accountability, and support systems. 

The study pointed out the importance of early exploration by highlighting the disconnect in expectations between Generation Z students and the job market into which they will one day emerge. Just under half of students (45%) said they could be financially secure with just a high school diploma. However, the Georgetown Center for Education and the Workforce estimates that almost three in four jobs in 2031 will require a college-level credential or training

If information is power, then career exploration, which includes postsecondary requirements, is vital to transforming students’ current expectations into well-informed, future-focused academic decisions along their career journeys. 

Last year, a survey was conducted of a group of students and teachers in New Mexico (grades 8-12) about their experience with P2C Career Explorer. After participating in P2C learning, the majority of students are “more likely” or “somewhat more likely” to choose:  

  • Participating in CTE courses (61%) 
  • Considering attending community college (59%) 
  • Considering attending university (76%) 

Half of students (50%) indicated that they would be “more likely” or “somewhat more likely” to earn a skill-based credential.  

The majority of students also reported being “more interested” or “somewhat more interested” in every aspect of learning, including:  

  • Learning about different kinds of careers (79%) 
  • Learning more about a specific career field (73%) 
  • Learning how skills I learn in class are used in careers (66%) 

Across the board, teachers also reported overwhelmingly positive impacts on:  

  • Student interest in learning about careers (89%) 
  • Student understanding off different higher education choices (89%) 
  • Student understanding relevance of math skills to career application (88%) 
  • Student engagement in learning and classroom participation (83%) 
  • Student academic performance (78%) 
  • Increased student interest in pursuing higher education (72%) 
  • Student interest in STEM-related careers (67%) 

Pathway2Careers (P2C), a national leader in career-connected learning, has been at the forefront of this movement, coming alongside students and teachers in the creation of a first-of-its-kind, guided, cross-curricular, career exploration curriculum and digital platform for grades 6-12. P2C Career Explorer equips educators with a powerful set of tools to connect what happens in class to the work environment and do it at a personal level for the student:  

  • More than 650 high-value occupations with real-time Labor Market data (wages, education needed, projected growth, etc.), videos of the occupations, and authentic stories of real people in those professions and how they navigated from education to employment. 
  • Career assessments that help evaluate how students’ knowledge, skills, and abilities align to potential careers, including the only Career-Cluster Matcher. 
  • Tools that allow students to compare careers and analyze the return on investment for postsecondary credentials and degrees 
  • A “My Career” page that includes curation of their assessments plus artifacts from their career journeys in a digital portfolio  
  • A Lifestyle Calculator that helps students understand how much they will need to earn to have the future lifestyle (home, car, dining, utilities, etc.) they envision, then knowledgably explore careers and the education required to have those careers. 

States that want to be at the forefront of the Career Pathway movement in K-12 are partnering with Pathway2Careers to bring this powerful tool into their states. They understand that career exploration holds great potential for all students, but especially for underserved students (low-income, students of color, first-generation college attenders).  

When students have equitable access to the high-value careers in their area, engagement grows, academic outcomes improve, and communities and states benefit from a diverse, fully-engaged future workforce.

Contact P2C today to learn more about our Career Exploration tools.

Share to Social Media

Subscribe to the P2C Newsletter

Get the latest P2C stories and news directly to your inbox.

"*" indicates required fields

This field is for validation purposes and should be left unchanged.