5 Lessons for Inspiring Students to Explore Career Options
When we ask young people “What do you want to be when you grow up?” the answers generally include—doctor, professional athlete, musician, actress. These are careers that we see every day in movies, TV, and real life. Rarely do we hear answers like a process operator, medical coder, automotive technician, welder, or HVAC technician. The reasons for this likely come down to one of several factors: a lack of awareness of available careers, negative perceptions that some careers carry in industries like construction or energy, and society’s long-held belief that the only pathway to success in is a four-year college degree.
Employers want the best and most diverse applicant pool available to them. In the work of Talent Pipeline Management™ (TPM), we appropriately spend a lot of time conducting demand surveys, defining the competencies needed, identifying the sources of talent, and partnering with talent providers.
Yet, another critical dimension of our work is activating individuals to enter the talent pipeline.
Just as employers need to be intentional about collaborating to improve the talent pipeline, they, along with educators, community leaders, and parents, need to support career awareness and exploration that inspires students and adults to consider rewarding but less-well-known careers available in a regional economy.
Here are a few ways UpSkill Houston has been working to inspire students and adults to explore the many great, yet less-well-known, careers available in Houston’s regional economy.
Only through research are we able to understand the awareness and perception challenges we need to solve, and understanding the challenge is the first step. For example, we used to refer to jobs requiring education and skills beyond a high school diploma but less than a four-year degree a “middle skill” job, but that’s changed.
Our research, which took the form of focus groups with students and parents in the community, helped us realize that the term was part of the problem – it reinforced negative perceptions we are trying to overcome. Through our research we also worked to understand the attributes of a career that are important to students and parents, who they trust for career information, and from whom they want to learn about available careers.
Schools as Partners
After family, friends, and neighbors, participants of our focus groups identified schools and educators as the next most trusted sources of career information. Particularly interesting was the idea that hearing career success stories from individuals of similar backgrounds would help persuade participants to consider careers that don’t require a four-year college degree.
During the 2017-18 school year, we launched our What Are You Up For? campaign, in partnership with four school districts that together serve approximately 150,000 students in grades 7 to 12. The first phase of the campaign focused on developing written materials for educators to use in helping students and parents learn about the many great careers in Houston’s key industries.
Before we distributed the materials broadly to the schools, we previewed the materials with educators—including counselors, CTE teachers, and administrators—to be sure the materials would help the educators in working with their students. We listened to educators’ ideas and created additional products, such as slides with career highlights for use in assemblies and cafeterias and posters for career centers. We also worked with companies to bring business leaders and their employees to talk to assemblies of students about careers in growth industries.
Reach Students Where They Are
While students and educators especially appreciated the interactions with workers and employers, we knew we couldn’t effectively use this approach to reach Houston’s more than 50 independent school districts, with a total enrollment of more than 1.2 million students. A geography and population as large as Houston’s make it challenging for employers to widely and effectively promote the many different careers available in their industries. However, the popularity of various forms of social media provided us with a 21st century solution.
We created the My Life As career video series to bring the stories of young workers—from recognized Houston employers—to students and parents widely, effectively, and at their convenience. The videos feature young workers talking about their journey to and success in well-paid, dynamic careers in thriving Houston industries. The videos show the workers going about their duties in safe, high-tech, appealing work environments.
Now an integral part of UpSkill Houston’s strategy, these videos help us raise students’ awareness about careers in the Houston area that offer good salaries, attractive benefits, exciting pathways for growth, and skills that last a lifetime.
Expanding Our Reach
We have expanded our reach by inviting our community organization partners—including United Way, Junior Achievement, Project GRAD, and Boys and Girls Clubs—to share the resources we have created.
By providing our partners with social media toolkits, we’re trying to make it easy for them to reach students and parents through their channels. Our hope is that we will continue to see an increase in school districts using these resources with creativity to spread the word.
By taking the time to identify opportunities, develop appropriate resources, and outreach to our community partners, we have deepened our engagement with the local business community. These resources can only be produced with the strong support of our employer partners.
Employers not only provide access to employees who have interesting journeys to share, but they also provide access to their facilities to capture the workers in action in environments that help change perceptions about these careers. We also work with employers to create fact sheets about the featured careers, based on the employers’ information about the prerequisite competencies and skills, likely career path, opportunities for advancement, daily responsibilities, tips for success, and salary range.
Employers are always looking for ways to better tell their stories and help young people consider their many, diverse career options—options the employees often didn’t know existed when they were in high school. Using this approach to solving some of Houston’s workforce challenges has been a win-win across the board.