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How to Take Charge of Your Own ‘Career Readiness’

Posted on Monday October 29, 2012 by Michael Keathley

One of the common catch phrases in debates about education is ‘career readiness.’ What this means exactly has become nearly an equally large discussion. As Catherine Gewertz recently reported in Education Week, the answers run the gamut “from acquiring skills specific to a given sector or entry-level job to mastering broader workplace skills,” and there is even disagreement over whether or not the “skills” needed for career success are the same ones needed for academic achievement (“Coalition Advances Definition of Career Readiness,” 18 October, 2012). This is all very confusing, especially to students.

If you are a current or soon-to-be college student concerned about being career ready, clarification is on the way. Gewertz also shared that a team of two dozen educational and business groups recently formed the Career Readiness Partner Council (CRPC) in an effort to more clearly define ‘career readiness’ (18 October, 2012). The CRPC also includes policy and non-profit organizations.

A review of the conclusions of the CRPC thus far should provide today’s college students with some helpful guidance toward becoming career ready.

When terms are defined, it involves more than just a simple statement of what something is. The CRPC does well to add some needed parameters within their response to the question: ”What is career readiness?”

    A career-ready person effectively navigates pathways that connect education and employment to achieve a fulfilling, financially-secure and successful career. A career is more than just a job. Career readiness has no defined endpoint. To be career ready in our ever-changing global economy requires adaptability and a commitment to lifelong learning, along with mastery of key academic, technical and workplace knowledge, skills and dispositions that vary from one career to another and change over time as a person progresses along a developmental continuum. Knowledge, skills and dispositions that are inter-dependent and mutually reinforcing. (2012)

First, students should note that the tendency of many in American culture to reduce academia and professions to mere job training is misguided. Students must see their education as steps along a path of lifelong learning: K12, undergraduate, graduate, job training, professional development, and other such activities need to occur throughout a person’s lifetime. If you are truly career ready, you understand that there will always be more to learn, and you will embrace that philosophy.

Second, students who are career ready will achieve “mastery” of the knowledge, skills, information, and other such attributes that are necessary for success. Notice the CRPC does not recommend competency, being good enough to slide by, “faking it ’til you make it, or any other such perspectives that foster a sense of mediocrity. As I often tell the faculty and staff I supervise, we lead; we don’t follow or simply seek to fit in. If you wish to be ready for “a fulfilling, financially-secure and successful career,” you will never settle for less than being the best.

Third, realize that not only will the external context of your profession change over the course of your lifetime, but you yourself will also grow and evolve. Your own needs, wants, desires, expectations, and all those other great characteristics shaped by the human experience through successive stages of life are not stagnant. Think of how technology has changed academia and the workplace in just the last five years. Reflect on how it has also affected your own life, too. If you want to be career ready, you will learn to enjoy handling this constant change.

Fourth, notice the CRPC’s consensus that all of the knowledge, skills, attitudes, and other attributes of being truly career ready are woven together, helping to shape and strengthen one another. You must take ownership of making a connection between academics and your career. Consider carefully how what you are learning and doing in school right now may be applied to your own job situation. Then think about how the current place you are in academically may be used to help you take your career another step forward.

Do this in reverse, too. What work experiences could you share as concrete examples of information being discussed in your courses? For example, this week one of my composition students shared with the class that she applied the rhetorical devices we are learning to a job application and interview; now she has a new job. If you are sincerely career ready, you will proactively seek out opportunities to weave together the academic and professional worlds in order to move forward now.

The Details
If all of this remains a bit theoretical to you still, download and print out the short CRPC report. Notice of the list of knowledge, skills, and dispositions provided (2012, p. 2). Some of these include:

    • Goal setting and planning;

    • Managing transitions from school to work and back again, and from one occupation along a career pathway to another;

    • Clear and effective communication skills;

    • Critical thinking and problem solving;

    • Working productively in teams and independently;

    • Effective use of technology; and

    • Ethical decision-making and social responsibility.

Realize that when activities and assignments are given in your college classes, they are intended to reinforce some of these areas. For instance, a group project may have as part of its purpose the goal of providing practice in teamwork, communication, and productivity. If you wish to be career ready, learn to identify and document your progress in these key areas.

Buyer Beware
I do share one concern with the CRPC and Gewertz. She wrote:

    Prevailing education rhetoric embraces these things in its “college and career readiness” dialogue, the group says, but hasn’t emphasized another key element: “engaging workplace experiences” such as internships or service learning that allow students to apply these skills alongside experienced professionals. (18 October, 2012).

Although I would add that these opportunities for students are slowly increasing, the pace is not fast or comprehensive enough for those postsecondary learners seeking to be authentically career ready. Therefore, you must create your own opportunities to work alongside professionals.

In this post I have pushed hard to encourage you as students to proactively seek your own career readiness as you travel the path of lifelong learning. Please do not hesitate to reach out to the other groups of constituents—schools, businesses, non-profit, policy and other such organizations—for assistance. Your success is also intertwined with theirs.

Please feel free to share any additional thoughts or tips on career readiness in the comments area below.

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