When equity is introduced into career-focused learning, dreams can take shape. Every student can now begin to envision their ideal job, begin considering the new possibilities they have for work, and begin developing academic and career pathways that take them forward. Equity that begins with career education becomes an equalizing educational experience.
We’ve come a long way from times when career and education valued and rewarded competition and dominance to now, where we strive for equity, where every student has the support they need to be successful. This is a start! We’ve also come a long way from the old vocational-education programs to today’s career and technical education (CTE) programs, where rigorous academics merge with technical skill development and postsecondary courses while still in high school.
What is equity? It‘s the quality of being fair and impartial. And what is the role of equity in education? Equity is the systemic approach schools need to take to successfully educate diverse student populations. For that to happen, we need to link what students learn with where they are going by intersecting Education, Employment, and Economic Development. This model of career-centered learning is the promise of equity.
This promise can be kept through our responsiveness to the multiple needs of all learners, by building trust with marginalized learners, and by ensuring their voices and perspectives are heard. This promise is kept as we give students the help and guidance they need to explore careers, understand the education and training they need for different career choices, and map pathways to reach their goals. The level of support and its direction clearly shifts the role of education to include a long-term vision linking students with next steps following graduation.
Taken together, equity and career education exemplify inclusion, with the promise that no student—regardless of race, gender, ethnicity, or economic background—is left out of career and college readiness pathways.
Career-focused education equitably prepares students for these next steps, whether students are headed for college, training programs, apprenticeships, or directly to the workforce.
Why, when discussing equity, is it important to introduce careers into high school academic programs? Increasingly more jobs require basic academic skills, particularly in mathematics, as well as workforce and technical skills. Together, these job requirements can be bundled as STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math) skills. This is where failures in equitable learning come under a harsh light: (1) minorities are significantly underrepresented in STEM careers; and (2) just 16% of minorities who enter a STEM major in college remain in this pathway (College Board, 2016; Funk & Parker, 2018).