How Early Career Exposure Prepares Students for Lifetime Success

The following interview is brought to you by Lenawee Now and Align Center for Workforce Development. Building a more vibrant Lenawee County.

Kelly McNicol: Welcome listeners. For the next few minutes, we are going to empower, equip and elevate. I am Kelly McNichol, a Career Education Navigator with the Align Center for Workforce Development.

Today, I’m here with Sheila Blair, the Director of the Align Center, to talk about something that people of Lenawee County may not know. Sheila, will you introduce yourself and tell us about today’s topic?

Sheila Blair: Sure, Kelly. Thank you for having me. I am Sheila Blair, the Director of the Align Center for Workforce Development, I have 20 years of workforce development experience, and I hold a master’s degree in industrial and organizational Psychology.

And what we’re going to spend… The next few minutes, the impact that exposing young students to various careers has on their development. Hmm,

Kelly McNicol: that sounds interesting. Why is this such an important topic?

Sheila Blair: Well, a [00:01:00] lot of people don’t believe that it matters if younger children, say those in elementary school, have any career exposure.

You know, some feel that they’re too young at that age to even think about it. The thought behind it is, you know, they’ll grow up fast enough. Just let them be kids. And that’s really important, of course, but doing age-appropriate career exposure, that’s fun and engaging really gets young children to focus on a direction and they start to visualize their futures.

Kelly McNicol: What about that statistic that 65 percent of today’s students will grow up having careers that don’t yet exist? How can we get those kids exposed

Sheila Blair: to those careers? Well, exposure can come in many forms. I mean, even toddlers can get career exposure. For example, when toddlers play with blocks, depending on their enjoyment of that activity, we can determine if they have an affinity for the construction trade.

And blocks represent multiple things, not just construction. Those careers that haven’t been created yet are mostly related to technology, and many children are truly being exposed to that every day in a small way.

Kelly McNicol: When it comes to STEM, which stands for science, technology, engineering, and mathematics, it’s an, is it true that it’s still lacking females based on your research?

Sheila Blair:  Absolutely. Females are highly underrepresented in the STEM field. But honestly, STEM careers are shorthanded regardless of gender. STEM fields also offer higher than normal salaries; let’s face it, STEM is truly where the future is heading.

Kelly McNicol: what physical changes happen to a child who has received early exposure to careers?

Sheila Blair: Well, mostly it accelerates brain development so that they can make better decisions and learn faster. When a child identifies with or has an affinity toward a particular career field, he or she becomes more focused. They start showing signs of maturity, more so than their less focused peers. The child starts to do some investigating on their own about other aspects of that career.

They start thinking about their future, and they’ll likely start asking questions about those professions. When children receive early career exposure and they subsequently start to focus on their futures, they typically will be able to avoid the identity crisis that teenagers usually go through a few years later.

Another benefit, children who are focused on and excited about their futures have fewer incidences of depression and self-harm. They have confidence in themselves and that doesn’t occur. Very often in teens.

Kelly McNicol: So I’ve spoken to a lot of older students who either don’t know what they want to do when they graduate or are not confident at all in that decision.

So why do you think that is?

Sheila Blair: Early career exposure has only recently been made a priority. Before, many students were going to college to discover themselves and their future interests. However, lessons learned, adults realized it’s very costly to do that. Instead of acquiring college debt, trying to discover your interests, only to change your mind several times, why not provide that early exposure so that students have a chance to settle on something [00:04:00] for certain prior?

To get a degree that they may not use or they’ll spend a lifetime paying for, but another reason why early career exposure is critical is the current status of the workforce. The impact that COVID had on the workforce and the mass retirement of baby boomers has created a vacuum. leaving many jobs going unfilled.

And for the first time since the 1950s, high school students can graduate one day and get a job the next day that could become their lifelong career, if they choose.

Kelly McNicol: So how can parents and schools make sure that young people get exposure to careers early on?

Sheila Blair: Well, this is something that Align’s been working on for several years.

Through an arrangement with the Lenawee Intermediate School District, the Align Center for Workforce Development has been working with teachers and counselors in every school district in Lenawee County to bring professionals and various professions into the schools. We help put on career fairs, career exploration events, like the Careers in Motion event we just held last month.

We have creative videos that highlight various careers. We help students get tours of businesses, job shadows, and other work based experiences, and we hold our annual Career Connections Job Fair every spring. And these are just some of the things that we do to help students learn about various careers.

Kelly McNicol: Well, honestly, I’m really familiar with those activities, , because my co worker, Christy Mendoza, and I These are the things we do every day in our job.

Sheila Blair: It can really make a difference, um, between a successful career path and a happy life for a child versus a life of poverty and struggle. And here’s one last statistic, , for you to show how important early exposure is to our students.

If a child isn’t exposed to and interested in a STEM field by age 10, The likelihood that they’ll become interested at a later date is very slim, and that really, carries over into multiple different career fields.

Kelly McNicol: Well, Sheila, thank you. Are there any final words that you would like to say to the listeners?

Sheila Blair: Just that we’re excited to work with parents and school districts to bring these opportunities to their students. But we do need to be invited. So if you’re interested in working with us, please contact us at align at alignLenawee. org. That’s A L I G N at alignLenawee. org. Thank you,

Kelly McNicol: Sheila. And don’t forget, listeners, we are Align Center for Workforce Development.

Empower. Equip. Elevate. Thank you

Narrator: for listening to the Lenawee Now and Align Center for Workforce Development program. New messages air every Monday at 6. 15 p. m. For more information on Lenawee Now, visit Lenaweenow. org.