Career Readiness: Redefining Success in a Changing World

By Joni Wackwitz

August 10, 2018

Young man uses machinery with help from an instructorUpdate, October 2018: The Career and College Readiness Resource discussed in this article has now been published! Download the guide on the Minnesota Department of Education website.

Think of a child you care about and whose happiness is important to you. How would you define success in life for that child?

This question was put to a wide-ranging group of Minnesotans in March 2017. The group gathered from across the state—representatives from Grades K–12 and higher education, business and industry, and the community—to discuss how they define success in career and life. Drawing on the answers and insight from research, the group hoped to craft a new vision for what it means for students in Minnesota to be ready for success in today’s workforce.

This Visioning Forum marked the start of an ongoing collaboration between the Minnesota Department of Education (MDE), the Midwest Comprehensive Center (MWCC), and the College and Career Readiness and Success Center (CCRS Center). The agencies are combining their resources and expertise to develop a Career and College Readiness (CCR) Resource that guides and supports Minnesota school districts in equipping students for career and college. MDE is spearheading the team and overseeing development. MWCC and the CCRS Center are providing content and technical expertise, thought leadership, evidence-based resources, and facilitation for planning meetings and stakeholder work group and feedback sessions.

Preparing all students to be career and college ready is one of five goals of Minnesota’s World’s Best Workforce (WBWF) legislation, passed in 2013. Faced with an aging workforce and schools that have some of the nation’s largest racial and economic opportunity and achievement gaps, the state passed the bill to help ensure competitive workers and leaders for the future.

Under the legislation, school districts in Minnesota are required to develop plans for meeting the WBWF goals and to report on their progress annually. Although districts have great leeway in how they structure their WBWF plans, this flexibility has left many district leaders in need of more guidance—particularly around career and college readiness. Shifting labor markets and rapidly changing technology have made it challenging for educators to define career readiness and the skills needed to succeed. Paula Palmer, director of career and college success at MDE, notes that “business and community members tell us that there’s a disconnect between what they need in employees and the skills our high school graduates have.”

Guiding Districts in Supporting Career and College Readiness: A Collaborative Effort

The CCR Resource is intended to provide districts in Minnesota with the guidance they need around career and college readiness. The goal is to ensure that districts not only meet the requirements of the WBWF and the Every Student Succeeds Act but also effectively prepare students for the modern workforce.

The CCR Visioning Forum kicked off the project, bringing together an array of people and perspectives to identify key elements of career and college readiness. The initial question about how participants would define success in life for a child they care about “really started the conversation,” Palmer laughs. “Because nobody said a high ACT score or passing all their MTAs [Minnesota’s state assessment]. They said things like, ‘Has the ability to pursue their passion. Has the opportunity to take courses that meet their individual needs.’ And they talked about how [students] need to learn how to learn, because we know that the workforce changes.”

To help Forum participants broaden what it means to be career and college ready in today’s world, staff from MDE and MWCC shared research and resources, including a nationwide scan of other states’ CCR definitions, policies, and tools that the CCRS Center compiled.

Building on the Forum, the team then examined a review of approximately 200 Minnesota WBWF plans to identify districts’ specific knowledge gaps around CCR. Regional Educational Laboratory (REL) Midwest, part of the U.S. Department of Education’s network of support, compiled this review in partnership with MDE. “The short takeaway,” noted Nicol Christie, a technical assistance consultant with MWCC, “was that districts desperately need this resource.”

Development of the CCR Resource is now underway with a diverse group of stakeholders, including district-level staff and parents, to ensure the inclusion of multiple voices. The initial resource, to be expanded over time, provides guidance for CCR planning and implementation at the school and program levels, including strategies for using data and personal learning plans to support, measure, and report students’ career and college readiness. The aim is to help districts develop CCR programming that reflects the state’s diverse students, addresses opportunity gaps, and supports each student’s aspirations—with a balanced focus on career and college.

The CCR Resource is scheduled to be completed in 2018. Training on the resource’s use will begin in the 2018–19 school year in coordination with training on implementing WBWF plans.

Shifting the Paradigm of Career Readiness and Success

Annette Freiheit, district superintendent of Pine City Public Schools in central Minnesota, is eagerly awaiting the CCR Resource. Freiheit attended the Visioning Forum and shared that it refocused her view of career and college readiness. “Pine County is one of the poorest counties in the state,” she says, “and because of the poverty, college is just not something some of our students think about.... Our students are graduating, but what are they doing? Are they going into the workforce, and do they have the right skills to go into the workforce right away?”

Freiheit is already incorporating ideas from the Forum into her district’s programming—and she is not alone. Other district-level participants report providing more experiential and work-based learning, increasing their use of technology to support career planning, and partnering with businesses and universities. One district has even set aside a day for teachers to go on a career crawl to local businesses to learn about the skills that employers are seeking.

Palmer adds that at the state level, the expertise and resources provided by MWCC and the CCRS Center have strengthened MDE’s capacity to develop CCR policies and support districts in developing CCR programs. Reflecting on the work, she hopes it will help more students obtain fulfilling careers. “We have broken down the old paradigm wall,” she declares, “to make room for a new paradigm of what short- and long-term success is for students.”