Fantastic and Free First Fridays: Career Pathways!

Hello friends of CrowdED Learning! After taking a couple months off, we are excited to kick off our 2019–20 Fantastic and Free First Fridays Resource of the Month series with an exceptional set of lessons and activities from the New York State Education Department and City University of New York—The CareerKit Series! 

Ideal for HSE + ESL Learners, the series includes a total of 11 kits that span 10 high-growth industries. Each Kit is loaded with industry-specific lessons and activities that integrate academic and digital literacy skills while helping adults learn about careers. 

To help you learn more, CrowdED Learning is proud to introduce Ellen Baxt—our guest blogger this month and principal writer for the series—who provides a detailed overview of the CareerKits in this month’s post. 

Before reading further, however, we encourage you to register to join us for a webinar on Thursday, September 26 at 4 PM Eastern where Ellen will go into greater detail and share tips and strategies for using the Career Kits with adult learners!

The NYSED/CUNY CareerKits for HSE and ESL Learners

My name is Ellen Baxt. I am a professional developer and curriculum writer in New York City. Trained as an ESL teacher, I work at the intersection of academics, social-emotional supports and career exploration. 

In New York, the TABE and TASC exams for adult literacy and high school equivalency students are growing in length and difficulty, and much of the funding programs rely on to stay afloat is requiring students to do substantial work on career exploration in addition to making academic gains. From my perspective, this is a good thing. I know that students come to our programs to better their lives, and that means increasing their employability. But as programs are struggling to help students make gains on increasingly harder tests, they have the increased load of figuring out how to help them make progress on their career pathways. That is a very tall order that can feel overwhelming. In order to fulfill both of these demanding requirements, without increased class time, we have to take on both tasks at the same time—provide career pathway education that is embedded into academic lessons. 

Our students often lack exposure to career possibilities and options. Many of our students work at low-wage jobs such as those in fast food restaurants while earning a high school equivalency diploma, and continue working there once they earn a diploma because they are not aware of better options. Other students enter our programs with ambitious but uninformed goals, saying for example that they want to be nurses, without knowing the tasks, schedules, work settings or required education to become one. 

The CareerKits, written for the City University of New York and the New York State Education Department and adopted as required materials across New York State, focus on broadening students’ exposure to careers. They do this through centering the teaching of research skills; that is, the ability of students to determine their own interests, identify careers in line with their interests that will also support them financially, and understand the steps needed to enter their field of interest. As they research their career interests, they practice the academic skills typically included in adult literacy classes: reading strategies, grammar, writing compositions, making computations and strengthening critical thinking skills. 

The NYSED/CUNY CareerKits are labor market data-informed lessons that combine academic skills development and career exploration. As students expand their career vocabulary, practice writing, read informational texts and interpret graphs, they at the same time learn about careers. With the demands on teachers to prepare students for exams while also preparing them for careers, a shift toward integrated career-academic lessons is essential. 

The NYSED/CUNY CareerKits include 11 volumes of career exploration activities that are literacy- and numeracy-based lessons along with facilitation guides. As students learn about which jobs are on the rise, what the civil service sector is, and how to become an entrepreneur, they practice essay-writing, determine word meaning from context clues, and interpret bar graphs. The CareerKits include Career Fundamentals, a broad-based overview of the world of work, and ten sector-based CareerKits in the fields of Healthcare, Technology, Community & Social Services, Education & Childcare, Transportation & Warehousing, Construction, Retail, Hospitality, Recreation & the Arts, Food Production, and Manufacturing

Selecting Lessons by Career Content or Academic Skill

Each CareerKit has a crosswalk index showing the literacy and numeracy skills that each activity addresses, so teachers can choose activities either by the career content or academic skills they want to focus on. The chart below includes the names of the activities and career content listed vertically down the left side of the page, along with the academic skills embedded in each activity listed across the top, so that teachers can choose activities according to the career content they want to address or the academic skills they want students to practice. 
Image showing the table of skills from the Technology Career Kit
This Table of Skills from the Technology Career Kit shows what reading skills are embedded within each activity.

A Library of Career Exploration Resources

The CareerKits are not designed as a curriculum to be followed cover to cover; rather, they are a library of activities from which teachers can pick and choose activities that align with the academic skills they are working to develop as well as with industry-specific career topics they are addressing. Counselors and case managers will also find many of the activities useful as they help students identify their career interests, narrow down their selections of careers and research the pathway aligned to their field of interest. Counselors may want to dial down the academic emphasis, focusing more on the career content. Teachers may want to hone in on the academic skills as well as the career content. 

What is Included in the CareerKits?

All CareerKits follow a similar format. Unit 1 addresses the big picture of the labor market. In the case of the Career Fundamentals CareerKit, the focus is on the labor market in general. In the case of sector-based CareerKits, Unit 1 focuses on the big picture of that industry sector, for example, the big picture of the Healthcare industry or the Hospitality industry or the Construction industry. Unit 1 activities address questions such as: Which careers are on the rise? (a bar graph activity); What settings and kinds of jobs are included in this sector? (a career profile); and How does technology impact this sector? (an informational text). 

Below is an excerpt from the sector profile in the Healthcare CareerKit. Every CareerKit has a sector profile in Unit 1 that provides an overview of the sector including the work settings, kinds of jobs and types of preparation required. As students learn about the sector, they also practice reading skills, including use of headings and subheadings, reading comprehension strategies, making meaning from words in context, and more. 
Image showing a sample sector profile from the Healthcare Career Kit.

Unit 2 helps students develop self awareness of their own interests. They are introduced to career search databases such as CareerZone, Career Cruising, MyNextMove, and the Occupational Outlook Handbook. (With the exception of Career Cruising, all of these resources are freely available.) They take an interest inventory by answering questions about their work preferences, and receive a list of recommended careers based on their responses. Then, they select one or a few careers to research within the database, learning about the primary tasks required on the job, salary range, work settings and pathways to enter the field. Below is a career profile from MyNextMove. 

Image showing the occupational profile for welders, cutters, and welder fitters.
Career profile from MyNextMove. To learn more about MyNextMove, check out this post from the CrowdED Musings archive.

Once students read a career profile from one of the databases, they complete a paraphrasing and summarizing activity based on what they read. Webpages are comprised of text, so we can treat web-based text in much the same way we would other kinds of text—focusing on reading comprehension, reading strategies, vocabulary development and summarizing. 

Unit 2 also includes a financial literacy series. The following graphic organizer prompts students to paraphrase and summarize database descriptions of careers. Once students read a career profile, they complete a graphic organizer such as the one below. 

Image of a student handout page for capturing research on an occupation. This example is for a Teacher Assistant.
This graphic organizer can be adapted to a range of careers and career information resources, and can be used with CareerZone, Career Cruising, MyNextMove, and the Occupational Outlook Handbook.

Unit 3 (or Unit 4, depending on the sector) brings in the voices of individual workers sharing their experiences on the job. After learning about careers through official data, students learn what it’s really like to work in a particular job from real people giving accounts of their real-life experiences on the job. This is done by way of worker narratives in text and in video. The videos are generally 2-6 minutes in length, and filmed on the job. Viewers see the workplace, equipment, co-workers and hear about a typical day on the job. They also learn how the worker progressed in the field to get their job, along with what employers look for in new hires. 

The written narratives are much the same, offering a day-in-the-life perspective. Students read the text or watch the video, and answer questions about what they have read or seen. Below is an example of questions following one of the written career narratives from the Manufacturing CareerKit.
Image showing questions that follow an interview reading of a worker in the manufacturing industry.

Each CareerKit includes around a dozen career narrative videos, selected for their relevant and easy-to-follow information describing the careers. Many of the career videos selected came from YouTube, but other good sources of videos include CareerOneStop Career Videos (many of which are also available in Spanish), PBS Career Connections, and Dr. Kit’s YouTube channel

Unit 4, Education and Experience, addresses questions such as: How do I become prepared to work in this field? How can I navigate a college website? How do I know if a job training program is of high quality? As students explore these questions, they engage in activities on researching degree and certificate programs. Students gain hands-on experience searching for information on a college website, learning terms such as credits, major, degree and prerequisite. 

Unit 5 addresses many of the nuts and bolts of narrowing down career searches and applying for jobs, including: How can I identify the members of my professional network? How can I develop informational interview questions to learn more about a career? How can I interpret help wanted ads? How can I compare two job offers with lots of differences between them? In the “Assessing Job Offers” activity, students use math, reasoning and writing to compare two job offers whose pay scales, benefits, commutes and work tasks are different. In the activity below, like in real life, these two job offers have some knowns and some unknowns. 

Sample activity from the Transportation and Warehousing Career Kit, were learners compare two different jobs.
Students are prompted to consider their options. How many construction parts will the worker sell and how much commission will she earn? How much overtime will there be and how much additional overtime pay will she earn? How many weekends and evenings will be required? Will she be better at selling or at operating a forklift? Based on these knowns and unknowns, students choose one job they prefer and explain their reasoning in a letter describing their choice. 

The sector-based CareerKits include an additional unit particular to that sector. In Healthcare, it’s “A Patient’s Perspective,” with activities around healthcare consumer education. In Manufacturing, it’s a history of manufacturing beginning with the production of arrowheads by ancient peoples; the cotton mills of the early American colonies; the cotton gin and how it contributed to slavery and the Civil War; World War II factory production and it’s relationship to supply and demand; the post-war closing of factories and rise of the Rust Belt; and the current revival of Rust Belt cities and towns. 

The final unit in all CareerKits is “Parenting is a job, too.” This addresses topics in parenting such as stages in child development, the benefit of talking to babies, family literacy and the advantage to children when their parents go back to school to further their education. As with all activities in the CareerKits, these are literacy- and numeracy-based activities, with students expanding their vocabulary, practicing writing, engaging reading strategies and critical thinking, all as they learn about the topic of parenting. 

Some activities in the CareerKits include information specific to New York State or City, but most are general enough to apply to careers around the country. Best of all? All CareerKit activities are available online for free, and professional development is available. 

Ellen Baxt writes curriculum and provides professional development at the intersection of academics and careers in New York City. You can find her in November at the National College Transition Network conference in Boston, and the New York State School Counselor Association conference in Ellenville, NY. www.ellenbaxt.com

Build Your Library of Career Pathway Resources and Activities

Looking for even more lessons, activities, and other tools to help learners prepare for the workplace? Check out CrowdED Learning's Workplace Competency Skill Directories in Communication, Essential Skills, and Career Pathways, which include the Career Kits and a number of other high-quality, freely available resources! And, remember to sign up for our September 26 webinar to hear Ellen provide even more details on the CareerKits, along with strategies for implementing them with your students!

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