In one kind of adventure, the hero sets out responsibly and intentionally to perform the deed...That quest is a major hero adventure for young people. That is the adventure of finding what your career is, what your nature is, what your source is.

-- Joseph Campbell, The Power of Myth

What is Career Exploration Really?
How Does Career Exploration Work?
Tools and Resources for Career Exploration
Ensuring Transferability of Skills in Projects and Pathways

NOTE: Of the various "connecting activities" that link school-based learning and community/work-based learning, we are focusing on career exploration -- the activity that most directly affects students and their ability to make the links internally between their work in the classroom and their work beyond the classroom.

What is Career Exploration Really?

Career exploration is the process of discovering one’s life’s passion—the source of one’s energy and creativity—and one’s place in the world. It is helpful to think of this process of exploration and discovery in terms of more traditional child and youth development.

Erik Erikson in Childhood and Society discusses life stages, with regard to integration of the ego internally and in the world. Discussing middle childhood he says, “Social institutions…offer children at this age an economic ethos, in the form of ideal adults recognizable by their uniforms and their functions, and fascinating enough to replace the heroes of picture book and fairy tale.” In the next stage of the child’s development, “to bring a productive situation to completion is an aim which gradually supersedes the whims and wishes of play. [A child’s] ego boundaries include his tools and skills: the work principle teaches him the pleasure of work completion by steady attention and persevering diligence…It is at this point that wider society becomes significant in its ways of admitting the child to an understanding of meaningful roles in its technology and economy.” In adolescence then, “the growing and developing youths, faced with …physiological revolution within them, and with tangible adult tasks ahead of them are now primarily concerned with what they appear to be in the eyes of others…and with the question of how to connect the roles and skills cultivated earlier with the occupational prototypes of the day….The sense of ego identity is shaped by the confidence that they are valued by others, as evidenced by the tangible promise of a ‘career’.”

“Career exploration” is a natural and necessary component of human development, occurring throughout childhood and youth—and beyond—and in distinct ways and stages. In the earliest years, it may mean simply exploring the neighborhood to understand what people do to make a community work. Later, as children mature, they become more self-conscious, and their explorations into the community and the world provide opportunities for them to reflect on what they are seeing and experiencing. They observe themselves as they observe others and experience the world. This process allows them to ask questions like “Why are they doing this work? What does it contribute? How are they doing it? Is this something I would enjoy? Would I be good at it? What is it about me that would make me good at this? How do I know this? Who cares?” As they experience new activities—whether through play and recreation, through schoolwork, or through service and contributions to the community and to the workplace—they discover what brings them pleasure, where their talents lie, and how their efforts are valued by others.

Montross, Kane and Ginn, in Career Coaching Your Kids, talk about four stages of career exploration and development, and the role of the adult at each stage. The stages include: self assessment, identifying and exploring options, goal setting and planning, and taking action. Along the way, the adults play the roles of Clarifyer, Connector, Challenger, and Motivator.

These are the same roles that teachers and mentors play at different stages of students’ development, through school and community-based activities. The Pennsylvania Department of Education with the Pennsylvania Human Resources Investment Council developed a chart describing the stages of career exploration and development, adapted here for your use . The Contra Costa County Office of Education has spelled out specific “standards” for career exploration as part of its “Life-Long Learning Standards” .

Career Exploration in Grades K-5. These years focus on exposure and instilling in children a sense of wonder about all the possibilities before them.

Career Exploration in Grades 6-8. These years offer opportunities for students to learn more and explore options through community service, service learning, interviews and job shadowing. Many schools have students perform an “I-Search” in 8th grade. In the I-Search, students are asked to pick a subject of personal interest and explore it deeply, through Internet research, interviews and personal experience. They are then often asked to reflect on the importance of the activity or interest in their own lives and why they may choose to pursue the interest in the future. Since the focus is appropriately on interest rather than career exploration per se, student attention is focused on what they enjoy.

Career Exploration in Grades 9-12. During these years, students may begin to explore options more systematically, through formal career assessments, often conducted as part of 10th grade counseling. Three useful tools are: the Self-Directed Search, developed by John Holland; the Motivated Skills, Career Interests and Values Card Sorts; and the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator (MBTI). The MBTI provides clues as to some of the kinds of career areas or styles of work they may enjoy in the future, based on some of their psychological preferences. While these assessments are only suggestive – and it is crucial that students understand this – they can still provide valuable information for counselors, students and parents, especially if students will be asked to select a career pathway or academy where their curriculum will revolve around a career theme. Without some kind of systematic reflection, students may select pathways and academies based on peer influence or other factors that may not reflect their true interests.

High school students may also conduct informational interviews, and participate in job shadowing to observe workplaces first hand. Most important, they have the opportunity to participate in real-world projects and workplace activities, service learning, internships, apprenticeships and jobs that extend and enrich their classroom experiences and in the process help them discover their true interests and aptitudes.

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