Secondary school students can benefit tremendously from taking career readiness courses. These classes help students assess their skills, talents, interests, values, and personality type, and provide a solid framework for career exploration. In addition, students benefit by developing concrete employability skills, such as how to construct a good résumé, search for jobs, and engage in effective job interviews.

Unfortunately, many secondary schools do not offer these courses. According to the National Center for Education Statistics, many schools have cut school counselor positions due to budgetary constraints, and now there are fewer students receiving career guidance.  

One way to compensate for the lack of one-on-one career guidance is to provide students with career readiness courses. Career interventions, such as having students engage in activities that facilitate clarification of career goals, can positively impact their vocational development.

Career Readiness Courses in Texas Schools

In Texas, there are several State Board of Education (SBOE)-approved career readiness courses that can be offered for credit. The middle school courses—Exploring Careers and Career Portals—help students with career and self-exploration. The high school courses—Career Prep 1, Career Prep 2, and Problems and Solutions—are designed to help students develop employability skills. Another course, College Transition, is a high school course approved by the Texas SBOE that can help students with career and self-exploration and employability skills.

One way to compensate for lack of one-on-one career guidance is to provide students with career readiness courses.

Why Intrinsic Motivation Matters

In the book Drive: The Surprising Truth About What Motivates Us, Daniel Pink reviewed more than 30 years of research comparing intrinsic and extrinsic motivation. The research concluded that intrinsic (or inner) motivation is generated by autonomy, mastery, and purpose. High performance and creativity come from the need to direct our own lives, to develop our abilities and talents, and to live a life of purpose and one that we feel really matters

An important question for educators to ask is, “How can we help students find a purpose that will generate intrinsic motivation and a love of learning?”

Discovering a Compelling Purpose

William Damon, a leading scholar on human development, conducted a landmark four-year study called “The Youth Purpose Project” (2003–06) about how young people are struggling to find a purpose. In Damon’s interviews and surveys, only about 1 in 5 young people in the 12–22 age range were able express a clear vision of where they wanted to go, what they wanted to accomplish in life, and why. He and his researchers found that many young people lack a source of motivation due to a lack of a sense of purpose. A purpose answers these questions: Why am I in school? What do I want to achieve? Why is it important? Purpose implies a desire to make a positive difference in the world. Purpose increases intrinsic motivation and drives shorter goals. For example, “I want to make good grades and become an engineer who designs products to help people with disabilities to improve their lives.” 

Purpose: Putting the Horse Before the Cart

When educators place the emphasis on short-term success first and finding a purpose last, we are putting the cart before the horse. If we can help students discover a work purpose that really matters to them, they will be intrinsically motivated to succeed. According to Damon’s study, a sense of calling or purpose requires awareness of one’s abilities, an interest in using those abilities to serve a societal need, and an enjoyment in using one’s abilities and talents. He found that young people with a strong sense of purpose had aspirations that were stimulated by two realizations: 

  1. There is something in the world that needs to be sustained or improved.
  2. I can contribute something to this need.

It is important to give students exposure to a wide variety of problems and needs in the world so they can find a purpose that resonates with them and one where they can use their abilities.

A well-taught career readiness course can help students discover their “calling” or work purpose. This is why it is so important for students to be given an opportunity to take a career readiness course with strong career and self-exploration components.

Raymond Gerson is an adjunct professor of college readiness, transition, and success courses for Austin Community College in Austin, TX.

Sidebar: Making It Work

How Principals Can Successfully Implement a Career Readiness Course

  • Make the course at least one semester long. The course should include self-knowledge assessments, career research and matching, employability skills, and multiple interactive activities.
  • Guide students in discovering a strong career purpose. Help students identify problems, needs, and areas that they are passionate about that match their skills and talents.
  • Provide excellent materials. Students need top-notch books and materials, and teachers need appropriate instructional resources.

Student Activity to Identify a Purpose

Employers are looking for problem solvers. Each job comes with its own unique set of problems, and problems create needs. These needs create jobs for the purpose of filling the need.

For example, illness is a problem for many people. This creates a need for many different types of medical interventions and services. Crime is a problem, so there is a need for careers that can help reduce crime.Students need exposure to and awareness of many different types of problems and societal needs. They need to understand how different careers play a role in resolving problems and filling needs. Students should think about which problems and needs they feel deeply about. If a student had the power to fulfill a particular need, which one would it be? Which ones could utilize their talents to make a contribution that matters and brings them joy?Career courses that offer students an opportunity for career and self exploration can help them to discover a purpose that stimulates the intrinsic motivation to succeed in school and in their careers.