By Sarah Burns, Director of Research Application
I spent the first five years of my professional life as a high school math teacher in New York City. I’ve seen how a student’s motivation can change after meaningfully connecting a geometry lesson to a career as an aerospace engineer, and I’ve seen how participating in an award-winning debate team can drive a student to pursue a career in public policy.
I’ve also seen students with incredible potential drop out because they never found their personal answer to “Why are we learning this?”
Annually, our federal workforce system spends nearly a billion dollars on programs to reconnect young adults ages 16–24 to work and school, but are we serving youth too little, too late? The San Diego Workforce Partnership is redefining the role workforce development plays in K-12 education to prevent disconnection before it happens.
This month the San Diego Workforce Partnership and Cajon Valley Unified School District are unveiling the Launch Pad—a middle school library transformed into a career center reimagined that blends the World of Work™ program with our tools and labor market information.
The space will be a test bed for students and their families to get in touch with their personal strengths, interests and values; try on different careers; and make a plan and access resources that will help them reach their career goals. In Cajon Valley it is an extension of teacher-led career development work that is already integrated into every classroom, but in other places a Launch Pad may be a starting point and resource to help teachers bring their content to life.
This work is bigger than just preparing workers for the labor market—it is about enabling equitable access and exposure to career possibilities for every young San Diegan, and ensuring that place of birth, race and socioeconomic circumstances do not limit a child’s ability to reach their full potential.
Every student deserves the opportunity to find meaning in their education and connect their day-to-day experiences to a vision for their future possible self. Every teacher deserves the support and training they need to engage students in productive conversations about their future. Every parent deserves the opportunity to advance their career and provide more stability for their families. That’s why we’ve created the Launch Pad.
What Happens at the Launch Pad
When students ask, “Why are we learning this?” they want an answer that is going to give them insight into their future. Students want to talk about careers, and they want to know how to make their big dreams come true. This is what happens are the Launch Pad.
Six learning installations present “missions” to help answer three questions—Who am I? Who can I become? How can I get there?—by leveraging in-person tools and online career exploration resources to:
- Explore how personal interests align with career opportunities
- Research local labor market information to determine which careers are most promising and lay out a plan to reach them
- Learn about local businesses and educational institutions
- Practice essential skills for workplace success
A common thread throughout these experiences is a focus on personal interests, guided by the RIASEC framework. Interests have the highest correlation to career success, performance, income and even elements of satisfaction. Visitors to the Launch Pad will have several opportunities to form explicit connections between their personal interests and career possibilities, knowledge that will help them to thrive in the workforce.
The space is designed to eventually host guest speakers—called MeetAPro experiences in Cajon Valley—and workshops where students can engage with different careers. Additionally, the Launch Pad will pilot student clubs, career-focused electives, one-on-one conversations with adults and peer career coaches, and more.
How Can You Aspire to a Career You Don’t Know Exists?
Our culture points children toward a very narrow list of careers—sports, media and entertainment, medicine, teaching. Add in gender stereotyping, which leads students to start foreclosing on career options by age seven, and assumptions about race, zip code and socioeconomic background and it’s no wonder students struggle to envision themselves in more opportunities. This is something we can change. Research shows that students’ career aspirations are most heavily influenced by the people around them. In the Launch Pad, students will have the opportunity to meet adults with similar interests to their own and broaden their exposure to new career possibilities.
When students experience high-quality career development experiences throughout their K-12 journey they are empowered to make decisions that will set them up for success as they transition to high school and post-secondary education. Further, businesses stand to gain immense value as these students transition into the workforce, bringing with them greater motivation and alignment with the careers and companies they choose to pursue.
No child going through this experienced is locked in, tracked or siloed. They aren’t choosing one career that they are then expected to commit to for the rest of their lives. Rather, each student is exposed to many options that align with their strengths, interests and values and encouraged to try on as many as possible. The Launch Pad achieves this through a set of key mindsets:
- Every journey has value. There is dignity in all work. There are many options for career and education, which means there is rarely one “right” path.
- It is important to take the time to figure out who you are and what is important to you.
- It is never too early to start planning, and it is okay if new information changes your plans. The most important thing you can do is take a step forward and learn everything you can from that step.
- It is okay not to have all the answers as long as you never stop learning. Career development is a continuous process, not a one-time revelation.
Free Career Exploration Tools for the Home and Classroom
A handful of the tools used at the Launch Pad are available online for teachers, parents and students, including:
- An exploratory online tool to help people identify career opportunities that align with their strengths and interests, find local training programs and live job postings, connect with services and resources to help them stand out and use labor market information to make informed training and career decisions
- Essential skills resources for teachers/educators and parents/students to build skills employers look for most
- Priority Sector Posters to expose students and visitors to industries and careers in San Diego County with high-wage, high-growth occupations (art is free but there is a cost to print)