Helping At-Risk Youth by Emphasizing Career Literacy
By Laura Richards-Farwell
Poverty and education are often linked, because frequently students living in poverty stop going to school so they can work, which leaves them without the skills they need to further their education and improve their future careers opportunities (Childfund International, 2019). This could become a cycle within a family, as children leave school to help provide for the family, just as their parents did. Coming from economically limited communities, many times, parents are absent from discussing career options with their child because they work long hours to provide for their families.
Over the past ten years, many states have begun to utilize Schools of Choice programs. These programs provide at-risk students with additional enrollment opportunities, which range from allowing students to determine which school within the resident district they will enroll, to allowing non-resident students to enroll in a district other than their own (Ciloski, 2013). Expanding educational opportunities to students from economically struggling cities has given thousands of students, particularly at-risk students, a chance to continue their education in other districts that provide more diverse educational offerings. These enhanced offerings hopefully have a positive impact on career literacy.
Students, along with their families, often rely on the schools to provide career readiness support. Although career exploration continues to be a topic of discussion in most K-12 schools, it often falls to the bottom of the priority list due the limited time and resources available to teachers, counselors, and staff. However, when counselors and schools fail to meet the post-secondary career planning needs, at-risk students are often more affected, as they do not have the outside resources to assist them in navigating their future.
Education communities realize the importance of focusing not only on high school graduation requirements for at-risk students but also of offering other career planning assistance to help develop employability skills, create goals, engage in career exploration activities, and expand post-secondary options. Given the identified need, every school in the United States must develop a plan to not only assist in helping at-risk students graduate from high school but to also provide career navigation and career readiness options throughout students’ high school career. For at-risk students in particular, the following ideas are valuable strategy considerations when working toward post-secondary career readiness.
Promote Career Literacy
Career and vocational guidance can no longer be perceived as a discrete service offered to young people after high school education (Galvan & Negete, 2017). Early career exploration is an especially essential intervention for students who might otherwise be at risk for leaving high school. Research has identified the middle school as a time when students can benefit the most from career exploration, a process of building self-awareness, learning about potential careers, and developing a plan for reaching future goals (McAvoy, 2018).
Many at-risk students have talents that are not always recognized and fostered early. Parents may be absent or do not have time to acknowledge or nurture these talents. Schools should utilize and provide meaningful career exploration activities that assist students in finding their strengths and areas of interest. Using career exploration tools and assessments to assist students in discovering and engaging in conversations about their future is a critical step to help at-risk students become self-aware (DeAngelis, 2019).
Help Students to Increase Employability Skills
At-risk youth are often deficient in not only academic and job skills, but critical interpersonal skills as well. A growing body of evidence recognizes the importance of soft skills in predicting long-term life outcomes, including labor market outcomes as well as social and health behaviors (Gates, Lippman, Shadowen, Burke, Diener, & Malkin, 2016). These soft skills can include critical thinking, collaboration, communication, and creativity. In a globally collective culture where innovation is the norm, these process skills are just as relevant, if not more important, than the end product (Fauche, 2018).
College may not be the best option for all students. At-risk students can benefit from exposure to all options, including trade schools and military programs. One way to do this is to provide students with real-world experience through an internship or apprenticeship program that directly target at-risk students (Long, 2018). There are many examples of apprenticeship programs for at-risk youth from around the United States, including the True Star Foundation program, which provides at-risk students with meaningful employment opportunities to develop 21st-century job skills, communication skills, and enhance their professional development. The program has taken an innovative approach to improving the lives of youth with on-the-job training programs enabling students to create, produce, and work in the media industry in particular.
Breaking the Cycle of Poverty
Counselors are vital to promoting career literacy with at-risk students. By taking advantage of available school choice programs, engaging early in career exploration activities, developing soft skills and work skills, and obtaining opportunities in real-world experiences via internships and apprenticeships, at-risk students can be better prepared for the future. Intentionally assisting at-risk students to find and foster their strengths can help them on their journey to break the current cycle of poverty.
Childfund International. (2019). The effects of poverty on education. Retrieved from https://www.childfund.org/poverty-and-education/
Ciloski, B. (2013). Schools of choice newsletter. Retrieved from https://www.michigan.gov/mde/0,4615,7-140-81351_81352_81356---,00.html
DeAngelis, T. (2019, February). Helping at-risk students succeed. Retrieved from https://www.apa.org/monitor/2012/02/at-risk-students
Fauche, J. (2018, December). 5 ways to prepare kids for jobs that don’t exist yet. Retrieved from https://www.parenttoolkit.com
Galvan, A., & Negete, A. (2017). Responding to student’ career development needs by promoting career literacy. Retrieved from https://www.ncda.org/aws/NCDA/pt/sd/news_article/143755/_PARENT/CC_layout_details/false
Gates, S., Lippman, L., Shadowen, N., Burke, H., Diener, O., & Malkin, M. (2016). Key soft skills for cross-sectoral youth outcomes. Washington, DC: USAID’s YouthPower: Implementation, YouthPower Action.
Long, K. (2018, October). Washington voters don’t think schools prepare kids for careers. Retrieved from https://www.seattletimes.com/seattle-news/washington-voters-dont-think-schools-prepare-kids-for-careers-the-state-is-trying-to-change-that/
McAvoy, D. (2018). Career exploration in middle school: Setting students on the path to success. Retrieved from https://www.acteonline.org/wp-content/uploads/2018/02/ACTE_CC_Paper_FINAL.pdf
Laura Farwell, Ed.S is currently a Career Navigator at Oxford Community Schools in Michigan. She has over 25 years of experience in the education, training and social work fields including both community and school settings. Her passion for at-risk populations has been a constant in her career. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org