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Getting Oriented: Three Types of Teen Vocational Development Programs


Getting Oriented: Three Types of Teen Vocational Development Programs

          Teen Vocational Development programs and curricula typically fall into three major categories, which sometimes overlap—Job Readiness, Career Exploration, and Career Exposure. If you are considering launching a new teen vocational development initiative, you may want to acquaint yourself with model programs of each type. Which is best for you, your context, and your targeted group of teens? You may discover that a program combining elements of all three types suits best. Or you may decide to design a program that walks sequentially through these types. It is best to have a picture in mind of the overall program you desire to conduct before you select the curriculum and plan the activities.

          The first type of teen vocational development program, emphasizing job readiness, is relevant to all students. (Often, some degree of attention to this topic is included in curricula or programs focused on career exploration and career exposure.)   Job readiness initiatives teach students how to prepare for a job interview or, more generally, how to make a good first impression.  Lessons in this type of program might include: learning an effective handshake, dressing appropriately, speaking clearly, and coming prepared with knowledge of the company.  Job readiness curricula also emphasize the development of basic job skills or good work habits. Teenagers learn the importance of punctuality and productivity, as well as the guiding principles for doing one’s best.  Many of these work-related values are taught in the context of religious principles or ethics.  In some programs, students study sacred texts to discover what principles these offer for work-a-day life. Other programs inculcate these values by bringing in guest speakers to talk autobiographically about how they live out these values in their different work settings. Still others help students to discover these skills and values through hands-on activities or interviews with adults working in a variety of careers.

          The second type of program is career exploration. In this type of initiative, students are guided through activities and lessons that help them to identify their unique gifts and discover the career(s) that is best for them.  These programs rely heavily on published curricula. These curricula usually provide questionnaires, assessments, and lengthy descriptions of various types of personalities and career choices.  The two curriculum reviews in this toolkit, of the Career Direct: YES! Program and the Pathfinders curriculum, describe these career exploration initiatives in detail.

            The third type of teen vocational development programs emphasizes career exposure. This approach focuses more on a hands-on learning experience than on classroom study.  Visits to job sites are the main activities. These vary in length and depth. The most basic level is a field trip to a work location.  Requiring more preparation is the “job shadowing” program in which a student is matched with a career person in a field of the student’s interest.  The student spends a full day (or more) on the job site, observing the daily tasks and skills required of that particular job.  Career exposure programs may also include short-term internships or work-study programs, in which the students not only observe a career field, but also engage in the work itself. 

          Regardless of what approach you choose, it will be helpful for you to be able to articulate the benefits of implementing a teen vocational development program. A number of studies have been conducted on this topic, with most finding that teens who participate in work-based learning programs often increase their school attendance, decrease in the number of suspensions, and grow in their level of engagement in school. As to work to persuade funders and others to support your new program, consider sharing with them about such benefits. You can learn more about this by reading another article in this toolkit, Benefits of Work-based Learning Programs.

Related Articles
Teen Vocational Development Toolkit

Curriculum Review of Pathfinder: Exploring Career and Educational Paths

Related Books
Career Direct YES! (Youth Exploration Survey)

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