When creating more options for students to explore educational options, how much do we know about how outside influencers impact their academic decisions. Research suggests that students are better served by educators who ask students not what career they want but what their individual interests are. Simply framing the question in a why that elicits a personal response rather than one based on outside pressures students are able to articulate their individual interests. This type of inquiry enhances the confidence of a student who engages in career exploration activities aligned with their capabilities. Recent calls coming from U.S. officials recommend that career technical education (CTE) not just be for the purposes of helping a student obtain a single job; rather, CTE should be utilized for helping students cultivate the skills that can lead toward lifetime career success.
Over the past few decades, the concept of social capital and its relationship to the educational aspirations of youth have been of particular interest to researchers and policymakers. Measures of educational aspirations have been investigated as they relate to social capital—defined as capital inherent in relationships among family members, especially between parents and children. Factors influencing teens’ actions are varied and individual; conversely, social interaction with friends, parents, and teachers do play a role in what career choices they ultimately make.
The importance of influencers (work experience, leadership, and the presence of a parental role model who is an entrepreneur) led to student self-efficacy. The use of extrinsic motivation and peer acceptance was more widely accepted by teachers as a method of motivating subject matter engagement; however, intrinsic motivation as a method of motivation requires focusing on long-term academic and career aspirations. It is also important to build a correlation of teacher influences on student engagement and academic achievement as related to curriculum content delivery and individualized student assessments. Internships and job shadowing, counseling, and peer support offer a positive strategy for engagement especially in under served communities. Barriers such as geography, access to quality education, family low SES, and local economic climate do however hinder a student’s participation in CTE. Stigma around trades and vocational education has impacted peer relationships as they relate to individual student motivations, engagement in CTE, future educational attainment plans, and career identity. Conversely, student experience pressure from educators and parents to chose higher education. Concerns continue over the college-for-all philosophy that does not fit all students and discourages the exploration of career pathways during secondary education. Yet overwhelmingly fluctuations in CTE funding and support, and the number of course/pathway offerings do attribute to high school students waiting to enroll in college before selecting or even exploring career options. Making it more difficult are students limited schedule time. In many cases they will engage in sports and other extracurricular activities instead of taking additional CTE courses. Many of these students who do gain industry-specific training and certificate or job skills they receive through CTE can gain work experience to pay their way through college. CTE faculty note that there are more CTE jobs available than ever before, many of which have the potential to pay higher salaries than many college-educated positions. Unfortunately, the stigma around CTE may be attributable to parents’ continued lack of understanding that CTE career pathways offer a dual academic track. For schools to effectively overcome the ongoing stigma, its suggested that parents and counselors advise students on the value of gaining career skills through CTE courses while in high school. Specifically in rural or suburban areas, CTE enrollment is simply too difficult where the distance to CTE courses or work-based learning activities are just too far. Students must travel either using public transportation or rely upon other means. Businesses who can help support CTE are in many times located in more urban areas, making it difficult for those students located out of those areas. In many cases the student must articulate to a regional community college or private technical college that is also out of their area.
Collaboration with Industry as the Solution
Having access to industry and career exploration can have a long lasting impact on a student. By integrating workforce relevancy into CTE curricula there is greater engagement for students considering entering the workforce earlier rather than their pursing a degree. Studies have found that the best predictor of academic success is for students to have a connection to a long-term future career or professional goal that is relevant and tangible. The concept of integrating career development is essential when preparing students for transition. Presenting students with career options coupled with applied learning can lead each to be more engaged in learning as a direct connection to curriculum.
The introduction of integrated career development into regular academic programs helps students become more engaged in learning math and science as they relate to a future career goal. However, the mathematics achievement gap between low socioeconomic and minority students exists, leading to the belief that these students are learning less or are less capable than their counterparts. It is as well suggested that students attending poor schools with high proportion of minority students tend to display lower educational aspirations than students attending affluent schools. It is important to connect the role of goals or career aspirations to student’s self-evaluation and patterns of behavior, coping, and emotion. The concept of “goal theory” as a factor of adaptive behavior and its relationship to task and ego goals will impact overall well-being. That task goals were found to be a significant positive predictor for academic efficacy and GPA if those goals were aligned with career objectives. Students’ levels of career motivations (autonomy and making money), attitudes (social concerns and relationships), and self-perceptions (leadership skills, financial support, managing money, and decision making) are all considered required skills for career interests.
Effective collaboration across educational and industry partners should emphasize all aspects of a students academic trajectory include motivation, self-efficacy, and enhancing their intrinsic motivation through both academic and career education opportunities. When students are able to display their talents and capabilities in tangible ways aligned with their individual interests, students engagement is much deeper and meaningful. Challenges will continue to arise until there are adequate and consistent investments in fully integrated career education system that increases access to positive influeners such as mentors and counselors. As well there needs to be greater investments to inform parents of options.
Given ongoing funding and policy changes, it is to be seen how the landscape of career technical education, apprenticeships, workforce based learning, collaboration across industries, and relationships and support from the vast network of community based organizations and service providers will adapt. At a minimum there needs to be greater advocacy for expanded access to career education services and resources for all students. And the earlier students gain access to opportunities and positive influencers, the sooner they are equipped with tools to frame their own trajectory.