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Future of Work | Movement Building |

Middle Schoolers Become Career Explorers

By Adam Vitcavage

The world is full of endless possibilities, and it’s never too early for young minds to start exploring the diverse range of career opportunities that await them. Recently, two CareerWise affiliates in Elkhart County, Ind. and Washington D.C. introduced middle school students to the world of work through immersive and engaging career events. 

In Elkhart County, CareerQuest served as an exploration of different companies based close to home in northern Indiana; while in Washington D.C. a similar job fair was held at University of the District of Columbia for students to discover alternative career pathways. 

CareerQuest in Elkhart County

CareerQuest, which was first organized by Horizon Education Alliance (HEA) in 2019, recently made a triumphant return to in-person after two years of virtual events due to COVID-related precautions. It’s an initiative aimed at sparking curiosity among 7th graders and introducing them to a wide array of career possibilities.

CareerQuest brought together 3,000 7th graders from Elkhart County to the Orthwein Pavilion at the RV/MH Hall of Fame over the course of two days. The event featured Advanced Manufacturing, Construction, Healthcare, and Information Technology (IT) employers from northern Indiana. Each school had an hour and a half to explore through hands-on activities to learn more about potential career paths. This year’s event featured around 40 business partners who came together to provide approximately 60 exhibits. 

The primary goal of CareerQuest is to expose students to various career options in Elkhart County,giving students insight into what it’s like to work in these varied industries. It’s not just theoretical knowledge but tangible, real-world experiences that help students discover their interests and passions.

“Connecting with students at a young age is a matter of equity,” said HEA Project Manager Aubri Mossness. “Early career exploration offers a glimpse into a possible future; it allows students to see people who look and speak like them, in modern professions. The opportunity for relevant learning through paid work motivates struggling students to persevere and achieve their goals.”     

Career Exploration in Washington D.C.

CareerWise DC embarked on its own mission to introduce middle schoolers to the world of career paths they could take. Held at University of the District of Columbia’s main campus, where more than 10 middle schools from DC Public Schools (DCPS) and DC Public Charter Schools (DCCS) converged.

Kiara Hill and Bridgit Flaherty of CareerWise DC brought creativity to career exploration by organizing small group sessions where students were encouraged to envision their future careers through an engaging game of charades. Students acted out various professions without using words, challenging their creativity and expanding their awareness of different careers.

In addition to charades, students were provided with career-themed word searches, where they hunted for professions related to their interests. These interactive activities made learning about careers fun and memorable, sparking students’ curiosity about various job opportunities.

One of the standout features of CareerWise DC’s participation in the job fair was their dedication to educating students about apprenticeship programs. Many students expressed aspirations for careers that traditionally require extensive college and graduate school education, such as lawyers, doctors, nurses, and scientists. However, most had never heard of apprenticeships as an alternative career path.

CareerWise DC seized the opportunity to introduce students to the “earn while you learn” model of apprenticeships. They explained how apprenticeships work and how they can complement traditional education, opening students’ minds to the idea that there are multiple paths to achieving their career dreams.

“By exposing students to alternate pathways starting as early as middle school, we are able to allow them to connect their interests and passions with potential careers,” said Bridgit Flaherty. “Not all careers require a four-year degree, and college is not the answer for every student. Bringing apprenticeship into the conversation allows students to understand the ‘earn while you learn’ model of apprenticeship and increases their view of potential careers.”

The Future of Education and Youth Apprenticeships

These two events share a common mission to ignite the flames of curiosity and aspiration in middle school students. Through immersive experiences and innovative activities, they empower young minds to explore the diverse world of careers and consider alternative pathways to their dream professions.

As these middle schoolers continue their education journeys, they are now better equipped with the knowledge that there are countless avenues to achieve their career dreams. These two organizations continue to show how their communities can invest in their youth and multiply the paths students have in their education and career paths.