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It’s a new year and like a lot of people out there I’m doing my usual rigorous planning in preparation for a successful 2020! This time of year presents us all with the opportunity to think about new beginnings. As an educator and a parent, I like to think that we can challenge our children and students to do the same.

As adults who have experienced our own unique career pathways for a number of years, we now enjoy questioning the young people in our lives about what they intend to do after high school. The line of questioning takes many forms, including: What do you think you want to do someday? Are you going to college? Where are you applying? What do you think you want to study?

Less common – and potentially more helpful questions are “Do you understand your options? Or, have you done any exploration to assist in your decision-making?” Unfortunately, the answer for many of today’s students is “No.”

That’s because in high schools across the country, students are primarily hearing about one way to become “career-ready” — by pursuing a four-year degree, even if they haven’t explored potential career paths. With little guidance or thoughtful consideration, students either blindly enroll in a four-year program or they forgo college all together and hope that they find a job that doesn’t require a college degree. Whether they attend college or join the workforce, the approach of crossing one’s fingers and hoping for the best is not a guaranteed path to success, nor a cost-effective one.

A rapidly changing workplace, demographic changes, technological innovation, social media, and remote positions are changing work as we all know it. Many of us, especially parents and high school staffs, aren’t able to keep up with these changes enough to offer advice. So, at a time of year when young people should be feeling rested and hopeful for what the new year will bring, many may be left feeling uncertain, confused and at a loss for answers to the questions about what happens next in their lives.  

This needn’t be the case, when we know the new year will bring opportunities for students to pursue the education of their choice, obtain lifestyle-supporting jobs (even without obtaining a college degree), or work while pursuing a higher education. Nearly 40% of job openings in 2020 will only require a high school diploma. It’s time we help students interested in this option to seize these opportunities, with a new kind of education focused on career readiness.

The majority of parents and students agree. In our side-by-side polls, 60% of students and 53% of parents said schools aren’t “doing enough to prepare students for a career after graduation.”

And of the parents surveyed, four in five said schools that aren’t able to offer career technical education or career readiness education should partner with online learning providers to do so.

That’s where K12 can help, by providing school districts with the resources to easily expand students’ options. By supplementing their in-person, core classes with online courses designed to get students thinking about and working toward their future careers, schools can allow kids to speak to industry professionals, complete interest assessments, and enroll in exploratory classes that help them decide whether they’re interested in a particular industry. In Wisconsin, for example, the Destinations Career Academy works with the Medford Area Senior High School to prepare students for careers in manufacturing. Students can explore a pathway of study sometimes taught by former industry professionals capable of helping them figure out what next steps they’ll need to take.

From IT to health sciences, business administration to agriculture, we can help students discover their interests early, and confidently answer their aunts’, uncles’, and grandparents’ well-intentioned questions. They can spend less time stressing and reserve more time for what we should be doing this time of year – looking forward to all the opportunities that await us in 2020 and beyond.

About The Author

Shaun E. McAlmont

Dr. Shaun E. McAlmont, President, Career Learning Solutions, manages all aspects of K12’s growing Destinations Career Academies and Programs. He is responsible for providing career readiness and workforce development solutions for students that go beyond jobs traditionally aligned with vocational education to emerging new collar jobs of the future. Prior to joining K12, Shaun served as Provost of American Career Colleges and CEO of Neumont College of Computer Science. He also held multiple roles—including President and CEO—at Lincoln Educational Services, a provider of professional skills training with multiple “Lincoln Tech” locations across the country. Originally hired to manage distance learning programs, Shaun eventually oversaw all aspects of the company including operations, sales and marketing, and government and investor relations. Before his decade-long tenure at Lincoln Educational Services, Shaun served as President of the Online Learning Division at Alta Colleges. A former NCAA and international athlete, Shaun leveraged his success in athletics to inform his business career trajectory, notably writing his doctoral dissertation on advising collegiate athletes on career success. Shaun earned a doctoral degree in higher education, graduating with distinction, from the University of Pennsylvania. He has a master’s degree in education administration from the University of San Francisco, and a bachelor’s degree from Brigham Young University. Shaun currently serves on the BYU Marriott School of Management National Advisory Council.