All Articles Education Career-Technical Education The pathway to career readiness for all? Through core curriculum 

The pathway to career readiness for all? Through core curriculum 

Learning to have career conversations with adults as part of core classes can get students one step closer to career readiness, write a Christensen Institute researcher and Career Launch director.

6 min read

Career-Technical EducationEducation

A multiracial group of six high school students sitting together in a classroom having a discussion, with a teacher leading. The students are in two teams, wearing either blue or red shirts. They could be participating in an after school activity, perhaps a debate team or math club. for article on career readiness

(Kali9/Getty Images)

SmartBrief Education Insights blurb

Career-connected learning is everywhere today in state and district policies — yet it rarely makes its way into core academics. Despite widespread agreement that career readiness matters, according to some estimates, only half of high schoolers feel prepared for the workforce. Students fare even worse on career skills that often fall through the cracks, like communication and networking. Only 29% of middle and high-school students say their school teaches them how to interview for a job, and college graduates feel least confident in their ability to network with professionals.

There’s growing literature suggesting that bridging these gaps depends on weaving together rigorous academic content with employability skills. But for classroom educators, integrating the two can feel overwhelming. 

It’s unrealistic to expect individual educators to pick up the slack. For example, in one study by the Christensen Institute, 86% of educators felt unsure what career networking activities should even look like, and over 50% cited that lack of tools and time were significant barriers. 

Given these statistics, what will it take for districts to help teachers embed employability skills into the classroom? 

Career readiness reconsidered: No student left behind 

In Southern California, one district is finding that having a clear vision, off-the-shelf tools, teacher training and flexible adoption models can help. Anaheim Union High School District Superintendent Michael Matsuda and his team have spent years helping students explore careers and develop employability skills throughout their educational journey. 

For Scott Reindl, the district’s 21st-Century Career Readiness coordinator, pursuing that vision has meant expanding a wide array of career exploration opportunities, like a summer internship program. But Reindl and his team have been careful to also grow opportunities during the school day to ensure that all students — not just those engaged in electives — can explore their interests and forge professional connections.

One initiative even made its way into high-school English courses. The district partnered with a curriculum from a social enterprise called Career Launch (where one of this article’s authors, Marieli Rubio, works) aimed at training educators to help students build relationships with adults.  

As a former English language arts educator himself, Reindl saw the curriculum as filling in where traditional ELA approaches often fall short: “We spend a lot of time on reading and writing and never really get to speaking and listening.” 

Career Launch teaches students how to reach out to adults in their lives to have 20-minute career conversations to learn about their job experiences while simultaneously increasing students’ communication skills and self-confidence. The approach aligns with the state’s ELA standards while teaching students how to grow their professional social capital, or networks. 

“All our students have social capital, but they don’t necessarily recognize it. We wanted to make sure they were thinking about the assets they have,” Reindl says. That asset-based approach is a cornerstone of Anaheim’s commitment to student voice and purpose. “We saw Career Launch as an opportunity to teach students to fish and to take ownership of their own career exploration,” he explains. 

At the same time, Matsuda sees building students’ networks as core to achieving more equitable outcomes. Citing findings on the impact of social capital on economic mobility, Matsuda acknowledged that students from socioeconomically disadvantaged households — which comprise nearly 80% of Anaheim’s student population — don’t always have access to the same professional networks as their more affluent peers. 

“We need to recognize that, and we need to build systems that are intentional about teaching kids how to network,” he says.

Flexible adoption and support

Previously a skeptic of off-the-shelf curricula, Reindl found one that could be fairly low-lift for educators and was designed and tested by educators. English teachers received four hours of professional development and were also invited to attend monthly communities of practice. 

Teachers have adopted Career Launch on a flexible schedule, with some teaching it as a three-week intensive and others spacing it out over the entire semester. Matsuda echoed the intentionality behind this flexible, bottoms-up approach: “Rather than impose big ideas onto teachers, we’ve always invited them to try this or that with professional development and creating a culture of collaboration and peer-to-peer coaching.” 

That’s proven successful: The curriculum has now been adopted by nearly every high school in the district.

Tenth-grade ELA teacher Charlene Leang sees it as translating English from the classroom to the workplace. “Students learn about how adults speak to each other on the job,” she says. “This is how people behave in the work world, and students need to know.”  

Lindsay Paananen, a teacher at Magnolia High School, agrees: “As a high-school English teacher, we teach reading, writing, listening and speaking. Social capital, networking and professionalism had been missed with our core curriculum.” 

She’s also seen ripple effects beyond her classroom. “Our district offers many internships, but a lot of Magnolia High School students were not getting those. A big part of that is that we’re one of the most underserved populations within our district. … By building up this program, students are now much more prepared to take advantage of these opportunities,” she says. 

Post-implementation data underscores Paananen’s point. In Career Launch surveys, 98% of students reported gains in their comfort in reaching out to an adult in their life to have a career conversation, and 82% reported gains in their ability to learn about different career options. 

Bringing career skills — and connections — into the core

Anaheim’s experience suggests that integrating career preparation into core academics is not only possible but imperative for districts hoping to make career preparation more equitable. 

There’s ample debate today about whether students should go to college or go straight into the workforce. That either-or mindset distracts from a more fundamental truth: Whether students attend college or not, all students need to be prepared for careers. Career readiness is the common denominator. That merits finding ways to make it core to academics.

For Reindl, it’s also core to something else — educators’ innate desire to help their students succeed. “It’s appealing to educators and why we got into education,” he says. “If you’re doing career readiness in your classroom, you’re bringing students curriculum that is relevant to them.”


Opinions expressed by SmartBrief contributors are their own. 



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