We need to look toward the future and teach our students to look in that direction with career-connected learning. Rather than asking our students what they want to be when they grow up? Perhaps we need to ask, do you know what you can be? Educators love to introduce students to possibilities so let’s do that. Let us ensure that career readiness programs connect the importance of learning mathematic and scientific concepts to future employment.
We need to connect learning to the American job market and job demand. We need to analyze this data for our teachers, counselors, and students and introduce these possibilities to everyone. This way, we set our students up to gain the skills employers want and become career ready. American businesses and industries are prepared to participate in conversations. Simultaneously, we need to encourage our youth to think about where they see themselves, where they want to live, and what types of careers exist and are growing in those regions. For many, the answer is careers connected to science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM).
The critical link between education, economic development, and a more equitable society needs to be better understood at the community level. Preparing our children and students for existing job markets and offering a pathway in the direction of high-value careers in their region is rewarding and necessary.
high-value careers =
high-demand + high-wage
The US Bureau of Labor Statistics projects STEM careers to grow more than other occupations. Labor market data shows that if you select a career pathway in STEM, you have improved chances of obtaining a high-wage career (at least $35,000 annual income). Making these connections are rewarding for all the parties involved, and by looking toward the future, we can address the severe challenges associated with equity in the American workforce.
Exposure is Essential: If you can see it, you can be it.
By exposing students to STEM careers, the interconnectedness of the 4E’s: education, employers, economic development, and equity are addressed and answered. Other 4E models have sought to look at exposure, experience, education, and effectiveness. This view focuses on the effect of closing the equity gap by making sure there is diversity in the workforce employed in high-value careers. This needs to begin in middle school, so our students have the necessary time to gain valuable skills, and so they are motivated to obtain those skills and create career pathways. Thus, when disadvantaged students have access to real, high-demand, and high-wage job options, they see the pathways and move in the right direction.
Education that Improves Attitudes and Motivates Students
Authentic career readiness resources help students understand “the why behind the what,” and this realization can motivate them. Possibly the most popular question asked in math classrooms across the country is, “When will I ever use this?” We can help students connect mathematic and scientific concepts to use in hundreds of high-value careers and aid our students to find purpose. When they understand how they will use the mathematical skills, attitudes change, and performance improves.
How Do We Create Exposure for Racial Minorities in STEM and High-Value Careers?
To create exposure to STEM and high-value careers in a way that impacts the equity gap, the typical guest-parent career day and career fairs are not enough. Curating personal stories of culturally and ethnically diverse skilled professionals in STEM careers help students to see themselves in those careers.
In New Mexico, an initiative to create career awareness through community connections includes over three-hundred diverse community members, many employed in STEM careers, sharing their career journey stories. Embedded through a career-connected program, students can select narratives and easily access video recordings of individuals who reflect the state’s racial and ethnic demographics. New Mexico has the highest percentage of Hispanic and Latino/Latina Americans (49%) of any US state. This initiative increases student exposure to high-value careers, motivates by generating purposeful learning, guides students towards STEM, and gets students excited about their futures.
Career-connected learning can empower our students. It can open a world of possibilities and, potentially, lead to a more equitable society, too.
Hispanic Population by State 2021. (2021). World Population Review. https://worldpopulationreview.com/state-rankings/hispanic-population-by-state
Zilberman, A. and Ice, L. (2021, January) Why computer occupations are behind strong STEM employment growth in the 2019–29 decade. U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. Retrieved January 27, 2022, from https://www.bls.gov/opub/btn/volume-10/why-computer-occupations-are-behind-strong-stem-employment-growth.htm