By Pat Roe, Senior Program Director, USA Funds
I recently had the honor to address the Indiana Latino Education Summit on a topic that is fundamental to everything we do at USA Funds® — making the vital connection between education and career. Sponsored by the Indiana Latino Institute — an Indianapolis nonprofit that USA Funds supports to improve health and advance education for the Indiana Latino community — the Summit brought together students, educators, policymakers and community leaders to discuss “Solutions that Work.”
One of the solutions that works, and one and that we at USA Funds advocate to improve the employment and career prospects of college graduates, is to make a strong connection to the world of work throughout a student’s years in school. In my presentation to the Indiana Latino Education Summit, I emphasized three important aspects of this education-to-employment connection.
Career Advising and Exploration
My colleague Domy Raymond already has written about the importance of integrating career advising in college. Middle and high school students also need information and support to make more informed decisions about their career choices and the educational pathways they need to follow to prepare for those careers. Students should be exposed to resources that allow them to explore career options, consider the type of academic and occupational training needed to succeed in the workplace, and learn the postsecondary options that are relevant to their fields of interest. For example, USA Funds has invested in Roadtrip Nation to expand its already-robust and engaging resources to help students and adults alike explore their interests, passions and career options.
Work Experience While in School
Nothing teaches students about the value of work better than actual hands-on experience in the workplace. Students should have expansive opportunities while in school to explore internships, job shadowing and job interview opportunities. Students also need to expand their circle of colleagues and potential employers through networking opportunities. Helping students set up a LinkedIn presence and use it to connect to professionals in their fields of interest can be an invaluable lesson. Students can learn firsthand from business professionals who are invited into the classroom for “career day” and similar presentations. Students can benefit throughout their school days from a mentor or coach who can guide them along the path through education and into the workforce.
The Central Role of Employers
If, as we believe, education is intended to prepare students for productive lives following graduation, then students need to have a clear understanding of what employers expect from those they hire. To more purposefully pursue education in preparation for a rewarding career, students should learn the answers to these critical questions about current trends in the workplace:
- What occupations are projected to be in demand by the time the student graduates?
- What education and skills are required for those jobs?
- How much can an entry-level employee realistically expect to earn?
- Which employers likely will be hiring people with these skill sets?
As employers, educators, mentors and parents, we all share a responsibility for ensuring our education programs include strong doses of work experience and career planning to ensure graduates are ready for the 21st century global workforce that awaits them.