Career Mapping Catching on in High Schools


The article Career Mapping Eyed to Prepare Students for College by Caralee J.  Adams, reviews the current state of high school student preparation strategies for researching and making career choices. I’ve pulled a few quotes and provided some comments and insights into what the reality of today’s efforts are producing.

Secondary schools are becoming more intentional about helping students discover their career interests and map out a plan to achieve them.

This effort is only as good as the foundational approach. As the article suggests, “Finding time during the school day can be a challenge, and the job of overseeing the process often falls on already stretched counselors, according to researchers and program administrators.” The assessments that schools use (see comment further down about Naviance) are not valid and can not be used in the work world to match people and jobs. Students recognize these issues quickly and consequently dismiss the entire exercise as a “waste of time”.

About half of all states mandate that schools help create individual or student learning plans, and most others have optional programs.

A student learning plan is something schools have been providing since student guidance counseling was created. Designing and attaching a student learning plan to a career direction is not something that should be done until high school. Mandating this activity has not created any measurable change that can be associated with increased post-secondary education, higher GPA or better test scores.

Enabling students to make their own plans puts them in the driver’s seat and encourages a long-term look at their course selection so their choices match their career goals, experts say.

The key here is “match their career goals”. A high school student is not equipped to make sense of the assessment results and do not have the necessary knowledge about different career paths to make decisions about career direction on their own. Schools do the best they can to expose students to different career areas but it is a shot gun approach that results in students feeling lost and/or overwhelmed.

Often, districts give students online accounts with passwords to track classes; create an electronic portfolio of grades, test scores, and work; research careers; and organize their college search.

These online accounts, including the one mentioned in the article, Naviance, have been around long enough to measure their effectiveness. Ask any student, and I really mean any student, that attends a high school with Naviance (or other online solutions) and ask them how they used Naviance. The answer I receive is “I didn’t.” or “It wasn’t helpful at all.“.

Schools, meanwhile, have not yet experienced the payback on their investment. As with many education programs, the rollout is left up to districts, creating a patchwork of approaches throughout the country.

This is a great “excuse” for the companies such as Naviance and the school administrators. A person I respect who works with at risk kids and served on a school’s trustee board and knows Naviance very well stated the online solution was “used only to help students get into a preferred college” – not to help them identify and focus on career direction.

Students create plans starting as early as the 6th grade. Of course, they can—and often do—change their minds about their career path. …Typically, a student might have a career-exploration unit in 7th grade. Through an interest inventory, in which the student answers a series of questions about preferences for working, say, with people or numbers, indoors or outside, his or her interests are matched with career clusters and pathways.

Childhood development studies clearly show that a student’s behavioral style and motivators are being established through middle school. The motivators (personal values) are set earlier. Behavioral style is in “wet cement” as students enter high school. The behavioral style and motivators are key to aligning a person’s “talent” to career options. Therefore, serious career exploration and career mapping is not useful until high school. Schools need to use a broader “exposure” strategy until high school. In high school, the focus needs to be at the individual level. That is where true career coaching is most effective. Also, did I mention the assessments used in school are not valid and reliable.

Knowing that high school students today connect best with online materials, the College Board recently launched a new interactive college-planning site, the BigFuture.org. And U.S. Sen. Chris Coons, D-Del., recently introduced a bill to pilot a project in which students beginning in 1st grade could start portable online college-planning and -savings accounts.

Students connect best with online materials? Give me a very talented teacher and the student will choose the teacher over online every time. The issue may not be the “preference for online materials” but rather a rejection of low quality teaching. With respect for Senator Coons, if we want to make college more affordable, fund the use of career coaching programs like Career Coaching for Students™  that are known to reduce the risk of changing majors in college and provide a student with an exciting personal future view that leverages their motivational and behavioral career match.

Todd Bloom, the chief academic officer for Hobsons, the Cincinnati-based company that produces Naviance, an online career- and college-readiness system, said the depth and breadth of individual learning plans are expanding, and the cost can run less than $5 per student per year. “It’s not a hard sell,” he said. “It’s socially desirable to have that vehicle. ”

And here you have the issue. School boards look at their budget and what they are “required” to provide and see online systems like Naviance as an “easy” solution to implement. Parents that are aware of the offering assume it is providing something helpful. The saying “you get what you pay for” is very applicable here. There is no hard data that shows any ROI on these “low cost” online system solutions like Naviance.

Yet a goal of the program was to increase high school graduation rates and that did not happen, said Jay Ragley, the director of the office of legislative affairs for the state. “It’s difficult to peg why we are not increasing graduation rates. That goal has still eluded the state,” he said, adding that it’s been a challenge to get parents used to the idea of career planning as early as middle school.

Until parents demand and receive better solutions in schools, I strongly recommend engaging a career coach for your high school student – as early as incoming HS Freshman rank and no later than the beginning of the Sophomore year.

Side Note from the trenches: We’ve approached school districts about integrating the Career Coaching for Students™ program as part of a high school curriculum. This program can easily fit into one class per week for a semester with other classes referencing parts of the program throughout the four years of high school. Students have access to the online career and education research tools throughout the four years. The most common statement we received as feedback: “Wow! This is exactly what we need. If we had this, we’d push our “online-only system” to middle school and have this for all of our HS students.” Our response to that: “Great! What is the next step to make this happen?” Reply: “Oh no, we’re too invested in what we have now. To go back to the school board and say we’ve got something better would not work out well for us. And besides, we know we won’t receive more funding to cover a more expensive solution.

Carl Nielson is a professional career coach, creator of the nationally recognized program Career Coaching for Students™ and managing principal of The Nielson Group, a management consulting firm specializing in hiring and selection, team effectiveness and executive coaching.

One response to “Career Mapping Catching on in High Schools

  1. Great article very much informative……
    placement services

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