Magazine article Techniques

A New Tool for Career Decision-Making: A New Online Tool Is Helping High School Students Figure out Their Future Career Opportunities

Magazine article Techniques

A New Tool for Career Decision-Making: A New Online Tool Is Helping High School Students Figure out Their Future Career Opportunities

Article excerpt

What do you want to be when you grow up?

That old-fashioned question has new relevance in the global, skills-focused workplace of the 21st century. Adults in the workplace hear it, college students hear it, and high school students hear it: you need a good education, and good skills, if you want a good job in "the new economy."

But how do students figure out how to get the education and skills they need to prosper as workers, citizens and family members? A new online tool from America's Career Resource Network (ACRN), a program sponsored by the Department of Education's Office of Vocational and Adult Education (OVAE), seeks to answer that question.

The Career Decision-Making Tool (CDMT) is based on a cognitive model developed by Florida State University (FSU) researchers. The online tool was developed by FSU and the National Training Support Center (NTSC), which is funded by OVAE to support ACRN, and managed by DTI Associates (www. dtiassociates.com).

The CDMT helps high school students plan for their futures by showing them how to make good decisions about education and careers.

Why Plan for the Future?

The trends are well known. Manufacturing jobs that require only a high school education and on which entire families can be supported are going or gone. The low-skill service-sector jobs that have replaced them don't pay well, don't provide benefits, and don't offer much room for advancement.

People working full-time in these jobs still have trouble paying the bills. That means that high school students who graduate without good skills could be stuck in jobs where they'll be struggling financially all their lives.

Burt Carlson, a senior official at OVAE before his retirement last spring, notes that the number of low-skill jobs is decreasing as well.

"The jobs that remain are those that cannot be computerized or outsourced, or that require physical presence to perform," says Carlson. "Meanwhile, there are thousands of adults that have already been washed out of the U.S. labor market for lack of skills."

There are also a large number of immigrants who arrive in the U.S. with less than a high school education.

"What this means," notes Carlson, "is that while the number of low-skilled jobs decreases, the number of persons seeking employment in these jobs is increasing."

So students leaving high school without the skills to do college-level work or get a good job will be competing with adults for a decreasing number of low-skill jobs.

Another factor in the changing American labor market is lack of job security. Most workers can expect to change jobs, to experience periods of unemployment, and to be competing for new jobs or contract work a number of times in their careers. They will also have to upgrade their skills regularly.

As Carlson notes, students need not only "the knowledge and skills related to job performance, [but also] the knowledge and skills required both to function effectively in the labor market and to appropriately manage their own careers, including health, unemployment and retirement planning. These are not skills usually taught in high school."

The message is clear. Students need a good education and solid skills to get a good job. They also need to know how to keep learning, so they can stay on top of the market and take advantage of new opportunities. And students need to start thinking about their futures while still in high school.

High School Decisions

ACRN has been focusing for some time on strategies to help students (and adults) make better decisions about education and careers. But project leaders at NTSC and officials at OVAE realized the model ACRN was using was outdated. In addition to the changing economic realities described above, there has been a huge change in the way people get and use information.

Laura Lanier, DTI manager and NTSC project director, notes that, "The Internet, which is host to an array of online resources, is how most people access education and career information. …

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