The Key to Preparing Students for the Future: Early Career Exploration & Experiences

Employability skills — such as problem-solving, teamwork, work ethic, communication, and leadership — have become an essential outcome of classroom teaching and are critical to prepare students for future careers. Career-connected learning exposes students to a wide variety of potential careers and prepares them for the future of the modern workforce.


Recently, I had a conversation with my 8-year-old son. I asked him what job he thinks he wants to do when he grows up. He is a smart, creative kid. He is interested in a lot of different topics and has relative strengths in math and art. He is a critical thinker and often comes up with different solutions to problems. His skills and dispositions align well with a variety of STEM careers. If he stays on his current trajectory, he will be poised to explore many possible career paths.

“I really love animals. I think being a vet would be really cool.” He is passionate about learning things about animals and he shows empathy towards animals, specifically. A career helping animals is STEM-centric. It incorporates aspects of math and science, while also integrating technology. A job as a veterinarian or animal researcher will likely exist when my son is ready to enter the workforce, but there may be so many other options for him in 10 or 15 years. Just think about all of the new jobs that have evolved in the last 10 years--web analyst, sustainability expert, app developer, podcast producer, artificial intelligence scientist. Who knows how the field of veterinary medicine will evolve by the time my son is ready to solidify his career plans?

The National Association of Colleges and Employers (NACE) recently posted a blog to share the skills employers are looking for. These skills and abilities have been increasing in importance over the last 5-10 years. Topping the list were:

  • Problem-solving skills
  • Work effectively in a team
  • Strong work ethic
  • Communication skills
  • Leadership

We can work to develop these skills, at school and at home, preparing students by offering learning experiences that expand on these and other critical skills. Through the lessons we design and the project-based experiences that we offer, educators can equip students for their futures. When we ask students to solve problems as a team or offer them leadership roles in class, we are helping them to navigate their possible career roles. As students build an awareness of their interests or preferences as a learner, they can begin to pursue STEM careers that may be a match for them.

Defined Learning offers Defined Careers as a tool to explore possible STEM careers. From discovering interests to career-related video content, Defined Careers can guide students through career exploration, even offering performance tasks and product creation connected to a chosen career experience. With so many connections to STEM learning, this tool can be one way to guide students through career readiness pathways.

Leland Melvin, an engineer and retired NASA astronaut provided the opening keynote for a recent online STEM conference. His career path was not a traditional one. With an early career in the NFL, Leland later tapped into his skills and interests in science and engineering before becoming involved in the NASA program. He is a great example of the different career paths that individuals can take in their lifetime. His diverse knowledge and variety of experiences prepared him to be successful in very different careers.

Imagine the STEM careers that may exist in the future. With advances in science and technology, the possibilities are endless. My son may pursue his interest in science and animals to become a vet or he might find a spark of interest in some other aspect of STEM learning. He has some time to figure all of that out, but with guidance from family and teachers, he can build the skills needed to be successful, no matter which path he chooses, When we provide early career exploration to our students, we are opening them up to the possibilities of careers that may be available in their future.



About the Author:

Dr. Jacie Maslyk is an Assistant Superintendent focusing on curriculum, instruction, and professional learning. She has served in public school as a classroom teacher, reading specialist, elementary principal, and Director of Elementary Education over the last 22 years. She is passionate about STEM education and is the author of STEAM Makers: Fostering Creativity and Innovation in the Elementary Classroom. You can contact Jacie through her website at


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