Preparing students for post-graduation success is every educator’s goal. Irving ISD Career and Technical Education Coordinator Gary Schepf shares his experience with college and career readiness and discusses how educators can equip students for job searching in our ever-evolving society.
What are the most important skills students need to succeed in college or a career? How do you prepare students for success in those roles?
We have identified through research the top eight soft skills (i.e., “people skills”) students need for success. We utilize media, guest speakers, discussions, etc., to help students gain a better understanding of these skills. One of the most important skills that students need to be successful in college is the willingness to ask for assistance, which is a skill that many students struggle with throughout their entire educational life. The top eight skills are, in no specific order:
- work quality
- communications (oral, written, electronic)
- time management
- problem solving
- professional ethics
How early should educators start thinking about college/career readiness?
Elementary years start off asking, “what do you want to be when you grow up?” So career planning starts early with exploration and hearing from career professionals. As for college readiness, taking students to college campuses and college fairs exposes students to the possibilities.
How do you help students decide what path is right for them?
Career assessments can be used to pinpoint student likes, dislikes, interests, etc. Once the assessment is complete, potential careers are identified. The next step is to discuss options to make sure students are focused on the path that is right for them. Without an assessment, you have to discuss interests, hobbies, etc., and help guide students into potential careers. For example, I had a student who wanted to be a computer hacker. Obviously, that is a crime. So I redirected his interest into network and computer security, which is the path he followed.
How do you know when students are ready for the next step? How do you track their progress?
We use a college and career readiness matrix that spans seven years (sixth grade through twelfth grade). With a career in mind, the student’s coursework over the years includes assignments that address the career interest, which becomes part of their electronic portfolio. We also follow a program of study at the high school level that allows students to know the courses that they need in order to achieve an endorsement. At the ninth grade, students take principle courses in career and technical education and explore the various programs in their top career cluster.
Is it possible to prepare students to be both college and career ready? Do these two goals ever contradict each other?
Yes. Prepare students for LIFE! There are skills that apply to both. Conflict may occur when deciding upon taking an advanced placement (AP) course versus a career-related course. Many of our students are earning dual credit through their career-related course. And there are way too many colleges that do not accept and apply the AP results toward a college degree. Students need to research the local job/career market (or the state or area of where they want to live) and determine what skills and knowledge and degrees and certifications they will need.
How do you work with colleges or employers to help your students succeed?
Irving ISD sponsors a college night annually. More than 100 colleges from across the state and country participate, as well as the branches of the military. We take our students on college campus field trips, and we bring in college representatives as guest speakers. For our employers, we provide them with job posting capabilities through our college and career readiness website, bring them into the schools to tour the programs through periodic Lunch & Learn events, and host an annual job fair at the administration building.
How do you teach soft skills such as communication, working with others, etc., alongside the more tangible skills that are needed for success?
Demonstration and modeling. Students are always watching adults they respect. Utilize the soft skills as if they are a natural part of the educational process.
What is the biggest challenge you face when preparing students for life after high school? How have you addressed this challenge successfully in the past?
Guidance and realistic expectations are the biggest challenges. All students can be successful, but regretfully, in our current society, they will probably be changing careers every five to seven years. It is crucial to have periodic parent–student–teacher meetings to discuss students’ options. The careers/jobs in the next five years may not exist today, so our students need a strong foundation that will help them succeed regardless. Not all jobs/careers require a four-year degree. Today, most jobs warrant a two-year degree with certifications. With careers changing more often, students need to know that they will likely be returning to college periodically for additional coursework and/or certification. And, if the career they choose is not feasible, educators should help students understand that they need a job that will provide them with years of happiness and financial success. They can pursue their dream career as a hobby until it turns into a successful career. Never burst their balloon, just add a string for control.
How do you define success for your students?
Success needs to have a broad definition. First and foremost, success should be defined as being “life ready” upon graduation, allowing them to be ready for college and career. Preparing students for only college limits their success. If you look at the lifetime of a student, college is only two to eight years of their life. If you only focus on those two to eight years, what about the remaining 30 to 60 years? Ensuring that students are college and career ready upon graduation will help them go directly to college immediately after high school or directly to work, or a combination. Not all students are mature enough for college immediately after high school. Success is being able to function over a lifetime, contributing to the community at large and being self-sufficient. One of my parents was struggling with the future of their child. This student was torn in many different directions and upon graduating did not have a lifetime plan. After a couple of years, around the age of 20, this young adult entered college and now is a successful attorney.
What resources do you recommend for educators who are working with students preparing for college or a career?
There are a variety of online resources that are available at a price, such as Campus2Careers, Kuder Navigator, Career Cruising, Naviance, etc. In addition, Achieve Texas has a variety of college and career readiness resources.
Share your own tips for preparing students for life after graduation in the comments below.
Irving ISD Career and Technical Education Coordinator Gary Schepf was the 2016 ATPE Administrator of the Year Award winner.
For more information, see ATPE’s Professional Learning Portal course, Getting Yourself in Shape to Shape Minds. This course offers tips for new and aspiring teachers to land a job in public education. It provides information on certifications and how to market oneself, as well as interview tips.
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