Career exploration opportunities help young people envision themselves in the adult world. They also help them see the skills they will need for success and set goals for themselves, engaging them with school at a critical time.
By forming strategic partnerships with businesses and youth-serving organizations, you can connect your students with valuable human and financial resources — including mentors, tutors and technology — that can expand their educational opportunities beyond your school’s walls.
What’s in it for you?
Community and business partners have expertise that can support what you are teaching in the classroom. Through career exploration partnerships, you can enhance your curricula and lesson plans, provide hands-on learning opportunities for students, and even take advantage of professional development opportunities.
How to Get in the Game
First, you’ll need to find a business or other organization that can serve as your partner in a career exploration project. As you begin this process:
- Ask your principal and peers if your school already has a business or organizational partnership on which you can build.
- Consider how a business or youth-serving organization might help you meet your educational goals while introducing students to potential careers.
Once you know what you’re looking for, identify the local businesses or organizations that might match your goals. You can begin to assess a potential partner’s “fit” by considering a few basic questions. What is their mission? What causes do they support? What populations do they serve? Do they already sponsor youth- or education-related programs?
Start by contacting the human resources department (or, if the business is big enough, the community relations office). You can usually find the contact information on the organization’s website. Email is typically more efficient, but if you prefer the phone, call between 8 am and 5 pm to increase the likelihood that you’ll reach a real person.
Contacting Youth-Serving Organizations
Start with the executive director (or, if the organization is large enough, the human resources department). You can also call the main line and ask to speak to the staff member responsible for school-community partnerships. Youth-serving organizations are usually available during traditional business hours and some evenings, but keep in mind that their busiest times are often after 3 pm, when school is out.
What to Say:
Introduce yourself and your school. Tell them you’re interested in exploring a partnership to provide young people with opportunities to explore careers. Address how a partnership would fit with the prospective partner’s current partnerships and needs.
Keep in mind that businesses are often held accountable for the company’s bottom line or may have goals for public visibility or community relations. Likewise, youth-serving organizations often consider youth development a priority. Tailoring your message to your potential partner, be sure to describe how a career exploration activity will benefit the business or organization you are contacting.
Ask if the contact would be open to scheduling an appointment to discuss how you might work together. If you choose to write a letter of inquiry instead, click here for sample text.
In consultation with your partner(s), discuss and establish some mutual goals, expectations and desired outcomes for your project. Then, choose an activity that reflects these goals and that addresses your needs and the strengths of your partnership.
Here are some examples of career exploration activities:
During career fairs, community members set up exhibit booths and talk to young people about their jobs. A career fair will likely require you to coordinate with your partner to:
- Secure adequate and appropriate space
- Collaborate with colleagues to host a larger event and expose your students to even more business and nonprofit partners
- Include information about the business and nonprofit sectors in your curriculum or syllabus
- Use a mock passport to encourage interaction; as students meet with representatives, they receive a stamp or signature in their passport
Job Shadow Days
In this activity, young people follow an employee during a day in the workplace. Job shadowing helps young people understand what a job looks like day-to-day and how they can apply skills they’re learning in school to the workplace. To make the most of the day:
- Help students compose a set of questions to ask the employee they’re shadowing. For example: What do you like best (and least) about your job? Did you have to go to college? Graduate school? What was your first job? What subjects do you use on a regular basis (i.e., science, math)?
- Match youth to employees in groups of up to three
- Gather at the end of the day to reflect on the experience and reinforce the role of schoolwork in the workplace. Discuss how English, math, social studies, and/or science are used every day on the job.
Bringing students to a partner’s organization, letting them tour the facility, and introducing them to employees is an effective way to expose them to new careers and industries. To organize a tour:
- Recruit parent/family volunteers to chaperone according to school policy
- Prepare young people for what they might see and for the behavior that will be expected of them
Career Days/Classroom Visits
Invite partners to your school and ask them to describe their jobs and/or share their expertise in a subject your students are studying. To prepare:
- Work with your partner to develop an agenda and clarify the goals.
- Tell your students about the visitor beforehand. Have them research his or her organization and/or industry as part of a classroom or homework assignment.
- Discuss the relevancy of the visit to the classroom goals.
Remember, the activity you choose doesn’t have to involve any of the categories above. It can be absolutely unique! Unleash your creativity to develop a program that will be interesting to young people and broaden their experience while supporting the goals of your organization and your partners.
Here are a couple of examples of all-star career exploration activities that might inspire your own thinking. Remember, however, that your own project doesn’t have to be elaborate or expensive to be valuable.
School to Work. Junior Achievement offers a job shadowing curriculum on work readiness, entrepreneurship, and financial literacy. It includes segments in the classroom and in the company.
Classroom to Community. The National Service-Learning Partnership provides lesson plans, sponsors innovation, and supports teachers to help students make meaningful connections between the curriculum and life outside the classroom.
Communication is the key to any successful partnership. Before you start an activity:
- Talk with your partners about what everyone’s roles and responsibilities will be.
- Draw up a budget, work plan, and timeline. (For examples, visit The Conference Board and Corporate Voices for Working Families.
- Establish a steering or planning committee (with members from both your organization and your partner organization) to monitor and evaluate the activity.
No matter which activity you choose, prepare by:
- Securing adequate and appropriate space for the activity
- Drafting a schedule or agenda at least two weeks in advance
- Establishing a meeting point and directions for chaperones — including where to park, which entrance to use, and how to follow the school security procedures
- Making sure you and your partners understand precautions and policies; these may include a background check, fingerprinting, or proof of vaccination
- Explaining any policies regarding food or giveaways
- Sending parents/families permission slips and photo releases so students may travel or have their images used in media or marketing materials
- Having students research the organization and/or come up with questions for employees
- Discussing a professional dress code with students; even if the partner does not insist, consider asking your students to wear business attire to give them a sense of what may be expected of them in professional settings
- Considering inviting media to the event
Recognizing partners and participants will help sustain your relationships and set you up for ongoing, mutually beneficial collaboration. After all events or activities, have your students send thank you notes to partners. Consider also:
- Making marketing materials with the logos of all partners and a description of your activities to give to the school community and show future partners
- Sending a letter from teachers, students, or the principal thanking the partner organization and describing the impact of the activity
- Hosting an end-of-year celebration with partners
- Distributing certificates and/or photographs of the event
- Recognizing partners at assemblies, special events, on your school’s website, or in a newsletter
Displaying posters or banners promoting the activity
- Conduct a post-activity discussion with students to evaluate what they learned about career pathways. What new jobs did they hear about? In what companies or industries? What did they enjoy most about the activity? What, if anything, should be done differently next time?
- With your principal’s permission, create an executive summary or brief PowerPoint presentation about the impact your activity had on the students and the partner organizations.
- Show executives, school officials, community members, and the media your results (you may have to schedule more than one presentation).
- Conduct a brown bag lunch between the business, community, students, parents/families, and school representatives to discuss the partnership’s strengths, weaknesses, and next steps.
- Many school districts require all volunteers have a background check. Make the process as simple as possible by having the proper forms available during partner orientation meetings.
- Partners may be surprised by the time and steps involved to collaborate. A shared work plan and timeline will help establish expectations.
- Schedule regular times during activity planning to talk about progress and challenges.
- Keep in touch and plan the next activity even after you say thank you.