In the past, guidance counselors were the sole voices for career education in their schools. Those days are gone. Businesses are clamoring for skilled people to replace retiring Baby Boomers. The Pennsylvania Department of Education’s Career Education & Workforce Standards demand robust career exploration and skill-building opportunities at every grade and in every subject.
The challenge for school districts has been tying all the pieces together, and Berks County IU 14 filled the need by leading creation of the Berks County Career Pathways Framework. Since early 2016, the IU has convened the county’s 18 school districts, plus nonpublic and charter schools, with influential business groups to develop career-readiness education that meets the needs of all.
The result is a flexible, action-oriented framework that builds district-wide capacity and exposes students from kindergarten to 12th grade to the world of careers waiting for them.
“This needs to be all hands on deck, with all teachers understanding this,” said BCIU Office of Professional Development and Curriculum Director Dan Richards. “If I'm a chemistry teacher, I'm connecting students to real-world uses and experiences. If I'm a physical education teacher, I'm helping students understand how the skills they’re learning translate to success in the workforce.”
Among the project’s priorities is access and equity to business and postsecondary experiences, meaning that any student anywhere in Berks County can explore careers of interest, whether an urban student is intrigued by agriculture or a rural student wants to pursue information technology.
Under BCIU’s lead, the initiative:
- Introduces students to career options and aligns courses with their interests.
- Creates job shadowing, internships, and other real-world exposure, with a database listing available opportunities in local businesses.
- Integrates financial literacy and such “employability skills” as time management and teamwork into K-12 curricula.
- Offers externships and other professional development for teachers, helping them connect classroom activities to the needs of local businesses.
- Allows students to access opportunities across districts that might not be offered in their local area.
Participants “see this as a long-term project,” guiding students toward achieving their dreams while boosting the economic vitality of the entire region, Richards said. “We just had a meeting about the Class of 2030. It’s helping those elementary students throughout the whole process. We see this as a 10-plus year campaign, maintaining it for years to come.”