In an effort to expose students to more career and technical education opportunities, more middle schools are fortifying their technical labs to include tools students will encounter in the workplace and exposing students to potential career options as the job field continues to change, according to The Hechinger Report.
Thanks to the 2018 passage of an updated Carl D. Perkins Career and Technical Education Improvement Act, school districts can spend federal money on career education and training programs at the middle school level, where states like Maine and Indiana are now requiring these opportunities be offered.
In some districts nationwide, 8th-graders now have the option of selecting a career cluster on which to focus. In those cases, it's important for middle-schoolers to have exposure to as many options as possible in order to make an informed choice.
If a student is expected to select a career cluster path by the time they are in 8th grade, it makes sense to start exposing 6th-graders to all the potential career options available. But how young should this begin?
Some districts, including Kankakee School District in Illinois, are dipping career options information sticks all the way down into the pre-K level. Superintendent Genevra Walters wrote in DefinedSTEM that research shows the earlier a student is exposed to careers, the sooner they will begin seeing themselves working in those fields. It makes sense, given that young children often want to be the most high-profile professions they can imagine when they grow up, such as firefighter, policeman or doctor.
On the other hand, some believe there is a such a thing as being "too young" when it comes to career pathway discussions. Making the point that most adults will spend 50 years in a career, expecting a 17-year-old to fully understand the repercussions of selecting a career at this age is potentially unrealistic.
But in Austria and Germany, for example, students as young as 10 are already set on certain career paths. One of the arguments in favor of putting young students on career pathways so early is that it's more efficient for remedial students to learn a trade than to be expected to take advanced classes and expensive tests. It also may prevent students from being discouraged in school because they aren’t being asked to perform above their intellectual level.
Yet this practice could also increase disparity in test scores and put students on track for a lower economic status early in life.
Exposure to several options alongside soft skills like communication, teamwork and collaboration is seen by many as most important. Technology will definitely change by the time a current 7th-grade student has entered the workforce, and students must be prepared to adapt to those changes and pivot as needed. Learning how to communicate with coworkers and supervisors will serve them well in any career they chose.