To the Editor:
There is a distinct difference between career preparation and career awareness. The former prepares students for careers. The latter teaches about careers.
High schools, for decades, have been preparing students for well-paying careers in construction, manufacturing, technology, and numerous other fields. The training is specific to the needs of a particular career. Many of the programs, along with preparing students for entry-level positions, provide solid postsecondary connections. The curriculum is narrow but deep. Curricula are often developed by national industry groups.
Career awareness gives students an understanding of the careers available to them. Students interested in medicine, for example, learn of careers that range from nursing assistant to brain surgeon. With such a broad curriculum, the depth is limited. But upon graduation, students should be able to better assess the postsecondary career-preparation choices available to them.
Most secondary-level career-preparation programs are designed to serve long-standing manpower needs, such as carpentry, auto technology, and cooking. Between the creation of the concept of a career-preparation course and the graduation of such a course’s first entry-level employees, a high school program needs four or five years to move from a proposal to budgeting, delivery of a three- to four-year curriculum, and graduation. Colleges, although more flexible, also require significant time to respond to employer needs.
An alternative to a school-based program for businesses, such as the one needing machine operators mentioned in your article, is for the training to take place at the business site, where the machines and the operators qualified to serve as trainers are readily available. This is career preparation.
For either to be successful, career preparation and career awareness need clear definitions.
Rhode Island Association of School Principals
A version of this article appeared in the April 22, 2015 edition of Education Week as Career Preparation Is Not Career Awareness