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Helping Students Explore Career Paths

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Robin Smith, Senior Director of The DeBruce Foundation

As our workforce experiences vast changes, our responsibility grows to empower and equip young people to navigate the world of work. Recent research shows 68% of youth ages 16-24 reported changing their approach to their job or career due to the pandemic; 80% lack a clear idea of how to prepare for a career; 67% report only considering 2 or fewer careers for their future even though national trends indicate they will hold 12 different jobs over the course of their time in the workforce. The research presents a stunning opportunity to help youth identify the next steps toward their career, expose them to a wide array of career options in which their skills and interests can shine throughout their journey, and instill in them a resilience and confidence for their future.

I have no doubt that, if you’re reading this, you care about youth and our workforce. In that case, I’m eager to share about a recent opportunity our team had to collaborate with our friends at Mid-America Regional Council and The Volcker Alliance for the Kansas City region’s first-ever virtual Public Service Career Expo. This free event was designed to help middle and high school students explore high-demand and rewarding career opportunities in local government.

Ahead of the event, students, presenters, and leaders had the opportunity to take the Agile Work Profiler, an online career assessment that provides you with a ranked list of your strengths and interests as they relate to the workforce – we call these “Agilities.”

Your Agilities are used in every job in the workforce, just in different ways and amounts. By knowing your Agilities, you’re equipped to leverage or grow your strengths, pursue roles that utilize skills you enjoy, and make informed decisions about your career path. Especially when young people take the Agile Work Profiler, they can be affirmed that they already have skills that are of value in the workforce.

As part of the Expo, teachers and counselors from schools throughout the Kansas City metro area logged in to the virtual portal with their classrooms, adding up to a total of more than 4,000 middle and high school students tuning in. Then, students were set to attend sessions highlighting career fields in public service that are projected to be in high demand over the next 10 years: 

  • Community Development
  • Corrections
  • Courts and Legal
  • Fire/EMS/911
  • Human Services
  • Information Technology
  • Law Enforcement
  • Parks and Recreation
  • Public Administration
  • Public Works

Each session featured a locally-produced video introducing students to professionals throughout the city, offering them a glimpse of a day in the life of their role, how they contribute to their community, and the commonly used Agilities in that field. Following the video, a live panel would convene to answer questions from the student audience. Conversation topics included how their educational and career paths led them to their current job, where they find meaning in their work, and exactly how they use their Agilities in their role. 

It’s normal for students to only be exposed to a handful of jobs – ones held by their family members, neighbors, and what they see on TV – before needing to make a career decision. Yet, in just one day, students heard from more than 50 presenters from across the region and were exposed to first-hand accounts of 29 different jobs. Through exposure, they expanded the number of tangible career opportunities they could picture for their future. Through these conversations, they had the opportunity for the “aha” moments like: 

  • “Hmm, that person looks like me!” 
  • “I can use my current interests in a job?!”
  • “I can actually help my community be better.”
  • “Their top Agility is Serving and Caring and mine is too; maybe I could have a job like theirs someday.” 

One of my favorite aspects of the Agile Work Profiler and the Agilities is that they can increase confidence and career direction. By exploring their Agilities, students were able to enter the conversation already knowing they have value and skills that can help them get to the careers they desire. When we’re aiming to empower people toward making informed decisions about their career, this awareness of themselves and knowledge of opportunities is powerful. 

As students return to their normal classes, their teachers and counselors are equipped with curriculum from our team to help them continue the conversation, help students grow in the knowledge of their Agilities, and expand their career pathways. 

In all, the day was invigorating and hopeful. People across our city gave enormous amounts of time and energy into putting this event together, and 17 cities and counties across the Kansas City region co-sponsored the expo. Amidst a time in our world when many are feeling twinges of cynicism, this event felt like an antidote. From Parks and Rec to IT, professionals spoke passionately about their work and encouraged the next generation to serve their communities and make the difference they wanted to see. These 4,000 students will play a crucial role in our workforce in a short period of time, and it will be in good hands. 

Check out resources from the Career Expo 2021, including more videos like those you see below, recordings of the panel discussions, internship opportunities, and more.

Our team is energized by important collaborations like this. Are you curious about how the Agile Work Profiler and Agilities can be embedded into your event, project, or curriculum? Join us for an Agilities Tour to get started and join our mission of expanding pathways to economic growth and opportunity.

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