Originally published in The State – January 27, 2020
When I enrolled in classes at Coastal Carolina University, I was so excited to begin my college journey. I thought that the school’s marine science program would be an opportunity to swim with dolphins and basically play in the water all day.
But I didn’t quite grasp how much this opportunity would cost me. And I didn’t realize that I would likely need a master’s degree and additional courses heavily focused on science and math. I spent thousands of dollars trying to determine the career path I wanted to pursue.
I’m not alone.
During the last school year alone students and parents across the country took out more than $100 billion in loans to cover the cost of post-secondary education and career exploration. And on average recent college grads owe about $29,000 in student loans. When I come across numbers like this I think about a better option that may help students explore their interests and talents in a more cost-effective way.
That option is career readiness.
Our state has some of the best career planning programs and resources in the nation. Each one is tailored to expose middle and high school students to everything – college course offerings, interview prep, teamwork building, resume preparation and more – during the early stages of their academic path.
For sure, this is a bipartisan effort. This year the South Carolina Department of Education – in collaboration with agencies including the Technical College System, the Commission on Higher Education, the Department of Commerce and the Department of Employment and Workforce – is continuing to develop a career pathway system that starts in elementary school.
Career readiness is about helping students gain the skills and experience they need in ways that prepare them for a rapidly changing and evolving workforce. Students don’t have to choose between a college or a career path while they’re still in middle or high school – they can and should explore both options.
The emerging gig economy – one in which workers are leaving traditional employers for more independent, freelance or creative jobs – is now estimated to be about 34% of the workforce; by next year that figure is expected to rise to 43%.
And a growing number of “new-collar” positions are being left empty; they are positions that require special training but not necessarily a four-year college degree (like software engineers, security analysts, and web developers). We can prepare young South Carolinians for these jobs and many others by exposing them to career paths early; encouraging kids to enroll in introductory career exploration courses as soon as the eighth grade can help them determine and hone their strengths.
Information technology, health services, business and other growing career fields in South Carolina are eagerl seeking qualifying candidates; they will be doing so for the next decade and beyond. So we can help our students figure out what they’re truly interested in and connect employers to skilled candidates, too.
Even if students don’t know exactly what they want to do, career readiness provides them with a way to explore different fields and jobs. South Carolina students are so lucky to have the opportunities they have today – now they just need to take advantage of them.
Jennifer Mau is the career readiness administrator at Cyber Academy of South Carolina, an online public school.
To learn more about Cyber Academy of South Carolina, visit https://casc.k12.com/