Executive Director, Schools That Can Pittsburgh
Program Facilitator, Schools That Can Pittsburgh
January 08, 2024
“What do you want to be when you grow up?” might be a question asked of children, whose dreams and aspirations can feel far-fetched and far-reaching in ways that inspire and humor us. But as those children grow into young adults, navigating the pressures, stressors, and opportunities that come with making decisions about the future, we believe career readiness can do more to support young people as they decide what they’ll grow up to be—and give them the resources and tools to do it.
We lead work at Schools That Can Pittsburgh, a nonprofit that works to build an education to employment pathway through career readiness programming. Connecting K-12 to careers isn’t just an idea; it’s the backbone of our work, and we believe that in order for those connections to be strong, career readiness has to start early, by prioritizing community partnerships, and meeting students where they are.
Students are active in the workforce, which means that when they aren’t at school, they might be working one or more part time jobs, or participating in multiple internships, extracurricular activities, and personal side hustles. What this means is that if conversations about career skills and practical aspirations aren’t happening in classrooms, during school hours, they often aren’t happening at all.
Facilitators for Schools That Can Pittsburgh, individuals who go into schools and share our career readiness curriculum directly with students, often encounter students who aren’t traditionally ambitious, who often have lower GPAs and unclear plans for their futures, or who feel frustrated at school, because it feels like a barrier to their ability to be successful and self-sufficient. The kinds of professional opportunities that students have rarely invest in the development of employees who aren’t likely to stick around for very long, like a young person who is juggling multiple responsibilities or still determining what their future can be. Through our deep, personal, and relevant conversations with students, our experiential approach to learning, and the networking opportunities that we offer students by bringing real-world professionals into their schools for mock interviews and career discussions, we find ways to connect with students who want to develop their professional skills, but lack the venue, time and opportunity.
In our curriculum, we make an effort to prioritize skills that will serve a young person and develop their confidence regardless of what they pursue after high school. Our lessons on financial literacy and budgeting are applicable both to a college budget and managing money from your paycheck. When students connect with professionals for resume reviews, mock interviews, and career chats, we bring in volunteers from a variety of backgrounds and in a range of roles—more chances for students to see versions of themselves. In the past year, data collected from our program showed that 90% of students found Schools That Can’s curriculum helpful for exploring career options and 89% of students responded that they’d learned of new careers through our classes that they hadn’t previously been aware of or considered. These are not only the keys to our success, but also to growing economic mobility for marginalized communities within Pittsburgh.
Think about the students who wash dishes or bus tables until late on school nights, who don’t see college as a viable option for a whole host of valid reasons. There are also the students who help support their families, either through after school jobs or at-home roles, taking care of younger siblings while their parents finish second shift. They deserve to be able to develop relevant skills to find meaningful occupations in a rapidly shifting workforce. In fact, these students possess unique perspectives, with relevant experiences to draw from. These are the students who light up in our classes, because they take themselves seriously, and are waiting for the rest of the world to catch up.
At the same time, no matter how ambitious or hard working a student might be, they are less likely to develop strong professional habits, like clear communication, ability to collaborate with others, a sense of optimism, and self-efficacy about their own career options, among many others, if those lessons aren’t happening at school.
Even for those of us who are several decades deep into our chosen career paths, we know all too well that the future is uncertain; but now more than ever, are we seeing and experiencing technological, social, and cultural upheavals that are directly–and often negatively–impacting young people entering the workforce, most of all students from marginalized identities and communities. While we see the effects of these changes in our classrooms firsthand, we also see these shifts reflected in reports from organizations such as the Center for American Progress. These indicators shouldn’t be taken lightly. We need to prioritize sustainable efforts to deliver career readiness, informed both by the lived realities of students as well as the needs of communities, companies, and civic society at large. By supporting young people in developing skills that will serve them wherever their path leads, and ensuring career preparation is truly student-centered, career readiness can help reimagine our workplaces to value a young person’s experiences, skills and ideas, while better preparing them to navigate and overcome the uncertainty of our contemporary job market.
About the authors
Daniel Dzodin is a non-traditional educator, lifelong learner and proud graduate of Pittsburgh Public Schools and the University of Pittsburgh.
Corinne Shetter is a native to the Pittsburgh region and a graduate of South Hills Beauty Academy and Point Park University, with a BA in Journalism & Mass Communications.