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  • Writer's pictureJoanne Jacobs

Future jobs: Compete with robots or design them?

Throughout my newspaper career, I asked young people about their career goals. There was a time when the high achievers wanted to be geneticists or forensic scientists. The B, C and D students wanted to be pediatricians. Why? "I want to work with children."

Early in the Silicon Valley boom, kids from low-tech homes wanted to "work with computers," but didn't know the difference between keyboarding and coding. More recently, students want to be engineers: That includes kids who are struggling to pass algebra. They name the careers they've heard of or seen on TV, but don't know what they should be doing in high school to get there. They have dreams, but not plans.

When I reported on welfare-to-work programs, I met women who knew how to sign up with a housekeeping service for a low-wage job, but not how to break into the larger job market. They had no idea what was out there, how much training was required and what they might earn. Does a cosmetology degree from a community college pay off? (No.)

Career exploration classes are helping Dallas middle-schoolers think about what they want to do when they grow up, reports Hechinger's Kelly Field.

“What do you think the future job market will look like?” Levar Dobbins asked eighth-graders at Piedmont GLOBAL Academy, a majority-Hispanic middle school.

“A whole bunch of robots,” one boy said.

Students can prepare to design robots -- or hope they can compete with them.

Dallas Independent School District is offering more middle-school career classes, using a curriculum from the nonprofit Education Opens Doors, writes Field.

Advocates hope encouraging early adolescents to "try on possible future selves" will motivate them to work harder and smarter in high school.

In Dallas, eighth graders must choose one of five “endorsements” to focus on in high school — among them, STEM (science, technology, engineering and math); business and industry; and the arts and humanities.
. . . Indiana now requires all eighth graders to take a series of self-assessments through the state’s online career explorer or a similar web tool. The results are shared with guidance counselors, who help students match their interests, strengths and values with one of three paths: employment, enrollment or enlistment.
Delaware, meanwhile, is in the process of writing standards for career and technical education in the middle grades, after finding that middle schoolers are often making uninformed decisions about which high school to attend. And Virginia has kids begin work on an “academic and career plan portfolio,” which includes information about their interests, values and skills, as early as elementary school.

Education Opens Doors was created by Jayda Batchelder, an eighth grade science teacher who saw her former students making future-limiting choices in high school. At first, the curriculum pushed students to aim for a four-year college degree, but now "there’s more information about alternative pathways, including the military, apprenticeships and technical school," she told Field.

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