Why Career Exploration Needs to Start Much Sooner for Students

Posted in: JA Impact

What did you want to be growing up? What was your “dream job,” and did you end up pursuing it?  Did you even know it existed back then?

Chances are times have changed since you were asking yourself those questions.  Education has transformed immensely over the last several years, and its purpose has changed too.  It’s no longer solely about reading, writing and understanding common core math.  Rather, there’s been a palpable shift in the expectation that students will be ready to succeed in both life, and the future workforce upon graduation.

That’s why career exploration needs to be an integral part of a child’s learning journey from the start. It needs to happen earlier.  Much earlier.

Career fairs, guest speakers, internships and job shadowing are just a few of the ways older teens and young adults learn about their career options. They may not realize it, but by waiting until those later years to start career exploration they’ve already limited their options and potential.  Almost like a form of tunnel vision, they may focus solely on the ideas and opportunities directly in front of them at that time.

Research shows that exposing children as young as three or four years old to age-appropriate information about work and finances can help improve academic performance, goal-setting and skill development as they get older.  This time period is critical as kids are still forging foundational ideas around things like money and work.  They are also bursting with creativity and imagination, and more open to exploring a wide range of potential careers or possibilities. Plus, with little to no pressure to actually commit, students not only develop a better understanding of the working world, but also of their place in it.

Local nonprofit Junior Achievement of Arizona has witnessed the impact of early career exploration on millions of Arizona students for more than 60 years.  According to a 2022 national survey conducted by Ipsos, adults who participated in JA’s financial literacy, work readiness and entrepreneurship programs as young students noted the experience played an important role in their future career and education decisions (81%) and influenced their motivation to learn and belief in their future potential (90%). In a time where educators are struggling to keep students engaged, it becomes clear that robust career exploration at a young age is critical to their future success in work and life.

Early career exploration goes beyond helping students answer that age-old question, “What do you want to be when you grow up?”  It empowers today’s students to be successful, contributing members of society, which also benefits their families, future employers and the community as a whole.

-Katherine Kemmeries Cecala, JA President