April 18, 2017

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This article by Bill DeBaun, Amina Anderson Pringle, and Sara Melnick originally appeared on National College Access Network.

It is clear that our field’s work – assisting low-income, first-generation students with accessing and completing postsecondary education – is profoundly important. What is often unclear, to students and their families, at least, is the career path to which that access and success leads. NCAN, with the generous support of Strada Education Network (formerly USA Funds), is working to inform members on how to connect career success with their access and success services.

The question of “why career success?” is an important one, and it represents a new direction and area for our field. Recall that there was a time when our field more solely focused on college access with just a few practitioners focusing on postsecondary success work; now, NCAN member programs are much more commonly engaged in postsecondary success work. The thinking behind it: Connecting career success to college success helps students better grasp the relationship between their academic pursuits and professional futures, and become more motivated and prepared to apply and matriculate to – and persist and complete at – a postsecondary institution. Students need to understand which careers are out there and of most interest to them, and the corresponding academic requirements. With that knowledge, students can look for relevant internships and other pre-professional experiences and follow a more efficient academic path – in terms of both time and finances – to completion.

NCAN’s annual Spring Training series, which concluded last week, focused on this emerging area of work. Across four cities (Phoenix, Houston, Indianapolis and Providence), attendees learned from field experts on a variety of topics, from implementing career success work in a college access and success program, to better using workforce data, to connecting with local, regional and state stakeholders to create partnerships for career success.

Each training blended consistent programming with more locally focused panels. Joining us in each city were Dr. Mark Schneider of College Measures and the American Institutes of Research, and, depending on the location, either AiLun Ku or Jessica Pliska of the Opportunity Network (an NCAN member also known as OppNet).

Schneider’s presentation focused on workforce data that programs can use to advise students about “hot jobs,” “hot skills,” and “high return on investment (ROI)” positions, as well as workforce projections that predict the need (or lack thereof) for a given occupation. Most states have workforce projections of some kind or another (NCAN is aggregating the state websites here), but the quality, comprehensiveness, and usability vary widely. Schneider’s work with College Measures revolves around setting up state-specific workforce data websites – “Launch My Career,” available in TexasTennessee, and Colorado, so far – that connect labor outcomes with postsecondary academic programs and credentials and predict the jobs that will be most-needed.

In addition to providing data around labor outcomes, Schneider also emphasized that sub-baccalaureate degrees can provide a middle-class lifestyle and a stable career. Using data from Texas, he pointed to a number of bachelor’s and even master’s degrees that earn their recipients lower salaries 10 years after completion than the average certificate or associate’s degree does.

“How to Incorporate Career Success Programming Into Your Advising,” the afternoon Spring Training panels guided by OppNet’s Ku and Pliska, revolved around their Career Fluency framework, which emphasizes developing skills and experience in four key areas: college access, transition, and success; professional skills and etiquette; career exposure; and networks and social capital. Within this framework, OppNet helped attendees identify their organization’s assets and strengths as well as something with which they struggle, helping attendees think creatively about a concrete approach to better developing their students’ career fluency.

At each site, OppNet also spotlighted an NCAN member – Be a Leader Foundation (BALF), Genesys WorksStarfish Initiative, or Bottom Line – that could provide practical, replicable insight for programs interested in expanding into career success work.

Bottom Line’s Dave Borgal, for instance, discussed his organization’s move into first college success services and later career success services. Bottom Line uses the DEAL (degree, employability, financial aid, and life) framework to guide students toward successful outcomes. The employability piece is key; Bottom Line helps students find the right career path and develop more functional skills like interviewing, resume and cover letter writing, and networking.

Also, Soilo Felix shared BALF’s college-going curriculum, which starts at grade seven and includes career exploration with two major components. One is Professional Shadow Day, where BALF collaborates with other organizations to give students real-world perspective on what different careers entail. In addition, BALF works closely with Sponsors for Educational Opportunity to identify college students for SEO Career, a professional development and internship program targeting talented Black, Hispanic, and Native American undergrads.

Then there’s Genesys Works, which empowers high school students from challenged backgrounds to achieve college and career success through skills training and meaningful work experiences. Joe Small shared some primary elements of Genesys Works Houston’s program, including the Meaningful Internship Model and skills trainings, whereby the organization provides eight weeks of training during the summer before a student’s senior year of high school. The training includes technical skills in information technology and business operations, as well as professional skills necessary for today’s corporate workplace. The paid, year-long, 20-hours-per-week internships help students further develop and refine these high-demand work skills while providing valued services to corporate partners.

In each Spring Training city, a morning panel focused on “Partnerships to Facilitate College and Career Success,” but content varied to reflect the on-the-ground partnerships that connect higher education, nonprofit, K-12, business, government, and philanthropic stakeholders to pull in the same direction.

In Phoenix, the Greater Phoenix Chamber of Commerce Foundation and one of their members discussed the Phoenix Forward initiative, which blends public policy and advocacy with workforce and economic development. The initiative has four industry leadership councils that each tie to specific occupational categories: advanced business services (for example, careers in cybersecurity, compliance and risk management, and financial services) transportation and logistics, healthcare, and bioscience. After identifying a pain point in an industry or around an occupation shortage, revealing the reason for the shortage, and developing a strategy to address it, these industry councils then go on to work with partner stakeholders to promote the career and help students move into it successfully.

Russell Johnson, the President and CEO of Merchants Information Solutions, walked through this process of building career pathways – in this case, into cybersecurity. First, an industry council identified 8,400 open cybersecurity positions in Arizona alone (note that these numbers could grow exponentially in the future). Then it worked with the local community college to review curriculum and develop career pathways that would help students qualify for these positions. Employers committed to doubling the number of workforce experiences available to students to further their interest in cybersecurity. Finally, the council developed a website and marketing plan to be a resource hub for those interested in cybersecurity careers.

On to the Lone Star State: In Houston, conversations about career readiness have become more frequent after a 2013 bill required all incoming 9th-graders to select an endorsement (area of study) based on their career interests and academic goals. To that end, our Houston “partnership panel” assembled various stakeholders, including NCAN members Project GRAD Houston and the Center for Houston’s Future, which discussed the role of nonprofit college access and success organizations in promoting career success for students. Insights from those panelists and others, such as a workforce development organization that helps meet employer needs and build individual careers, showed that multiple sectors share the goal of facilitating career exploration to ensure students successfully transition into the local workforce.

That collaborative theme extended to Indianapolis, where Ascend Indiana, the Indiana Youth InstituteEmployIndy, and the Indiana Department of Workforce Development partner to provide workforce projections and inform students, employees, and other stakeholders about career pathways in fields where jobs will be in demand. The audience learned about Ascend Indiana’s work to align future labor market needs with relevant degree or credential opportunities and available talent, and discussed how to help young people identify their passion by exposing them to career opportunities, providing a sense of the jobs available as well as the obtainable skills and credentials to be successful in those jobs. These experiences, along with several state-based simulator tools available online, can help students turn a job into a fulfilling career.

Finally, in Providence, Spring Training attendees heard from a number of experts. First, Rhode Island’s First Gentleman Andy Moffit discussed the importance of college access and success in his own life and highlighted initiatives supported by his wife, Gov. Gina Raimondo. Rhode Island has been a leader in promoting career pathways for students, and the Providence partnership panel brought together K-12 and government entities from a variety of perspectives. For example, the state has greatly expanded access to dual enrollment for high school students, and an Advanced Coursework Network helps students take college or other advanced coursework that their high school may not offer.

As always during the Spring Training series, hearing members’ questions and concerns proved invaluable to the NCAN staff in attendance. Notably, each site had a different “feel” stemming from local contexts and experiences.

We’ll continue to share our work in this area via white papers, webinars, case studies, blog posts, Success Digest articles, and this Spring Training series. NCAN has already produced spotlights through these mediums, including the Career Success Spotlight webinars with members currently engaged in this work. We are compiling a list of career success-related resources on our website and we encourage readers to check back often, as we are always adding to it.