One of the reasons for the education system is to prepare youth for college and career. However, we’ve learned over time that just preparing youth for college is not enough. Going to college is the “door opener” not the end game. We need to prepare youth for both college and career. Career options require more than just cognitive understanding. Career success requires young people to have highly developed non-cognitive skills as well technical content knowledge and “know-how”.
These skills include perseverance, work ethic, questioning and problem posing, taking responsible risks, thinking and communicating with clarity and precision, creating, imagining, and innovating, working collaboratively, and of course, remaining open to continuous learning. Where better than afterschool for youth to practice these skills? Certainly they can practice during the school day and at home or in the community, but in an afterschool program, this practice can be done with intentionality and focus. It can also be done in ways that fully engage youth through project-based learning, community service, and service learning—all mainstays of high quality afterschool programs.
So how and when do we get started? I say start early by helping our youngest learners realize that the people in their neighborhoods have jobs and careers and what it took for them to get those jobs and begin those careers. I think we continue to focus on the career clusters and let youth know what jobs are available in the world, and then focus in on individual interests of young people, and ultimately work to find intern and extern opportunities for them in high school. We share information with parents and caregivers, and help youth to understand how to select a college or training center and how to get student loans, grants, and scholarships. At the Sacramento STEM Symposium, former astronaut José Hernandez talked about his decision to become an astronaut when he was a young boy. He shared his dream with his father who explained that you need to be clear about what you want, where you are at the moment you make that decision, and then plot your course to get to where you want to be. Good advice as we work with youth on setting career goals and determining what sort of training and education will be needed to accomplish those goals.