Career Exploration Education is Essential

Only about 23 percent of the jobs in America require a college education. Therefore, the remaining jobs do not require a college education. American youth require an education that explains this reality and to learn what people do in various occupations and what education is required to prepare for employment. It’s time for leaders in America to understand that occupational education is a part of public education in America. This is essential because we know that 70 percent of students will not go on to graduate from college, with even fewer from urban high schools. This reality should make educational leaders aware of the importance of high school occupational education. A second reality is that most high school students know very little about any occupations in America. Most young people only know about teachers and police officers and don’t want either of those jobs.

A major misconception about education in America is that high school occupational education is not serious. This misconception has harmed millions of American youth over the years. It’s time to correct this misconception. A four-year sequence of high school career technical education comprises over 900 hours of instruction. These 900 hours of instruction provide technical skills in almost every non-college profession at the entry-level. We know from research that high school career technical education motivates young people to attend high school, stay in high school, and graduate in high proportions. This technical training allows high school graduates to find employment at higher rates. These success criteria of higher attendance rates, learning technical employment skills, much higher graduation rates, and much higher employment rates should disabuse cynics when thinking about high school career technical education.

Thus, the real issue is where do you fit a course into the educational system that explains about occupations in America? From research, we know the ninth grade of high school has the highest drop out rate. Therefore, the four-year sequence of career technical education must begin in the ninth grade. In order for students to make an informed choice about a career technical education program beginning in the ninth grade, the career exploration course must be provided at an earlier point or in the eighth grade.

Career exploration is complex with education about careers, industries, pay levels, skill levels, educational requirements, and about regional businesses. All of this information must be related to potential career technical education programs offered in nearby high schools. The course will also need time for speakers and field trips. The speakers must represent different levels of careers from entry level to technical to professional and should have representatives of different ethnicities and gender. This course must develop a sense of relevance of schooling to young peoples lives. This is the time to introduce the concepts of soft employment skills. Certainly, the college prep curriculum is relevant to high academic achieving students, but is not for the supermajority of students. Developing this concept of relevance of schooling for non-college-bound kids is the preeminent purpose of the career exploration course.

The outcomes of this course are not just an academic exercise. The primary outcome is for students to see the necessity of high school to prepare them for life. The usefulness of career technical education should be obvious, however there are other parts of a high school education that are also significant. All students should take relevant courses such as consumer mathematics, nutrition, exercising for life, and parenting. Typical high schools do not offer these courses or a four-year sequence of career technical education. Therefore, my conclusion for sometime has been that the only way to get this done this is through the career academy. This career exploration course combined with career academies will create relevance in high school students that we know will result in higher attendance, higher graduation, higher employment of graduates, which will reduce crime.

James C. Wilson, Ed.D.

Dr. Wilson is the author of Disposable Youth: Education or Incarceration? available on

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Dr. Wilson is the author of Disposable Youth: Eucation or Incarceration? on
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