Start with Work: Rethinking Career Education

Meet Alex, a self-proclaimed introvert who loves quiet, thoughtful analysis. In his junior year of high school, Alex took a career assessment test. The results? A strong inclination toward solitary professions.

Armed with this insight, Alex dismissed the idea of a career in public relations, believing it wouldn’t fit his introverted nature.

Sadly, this is an all too common occurrence.

Maybe you had this same experience when doing your own career exploration.

But what if Alex had begun his career exploration journey differently?

Let’s explore a different approach to career education—one that starts with work.

Rethinking Career Education: The ‘Start with Work’ Approach

The traditional model of career education starts with oneself—identifying one’s skills, strengths, weaknesses, and interests—and then matches traits to potential careers. This approach does have value, but it also has limitations. For instance, it heavily relies on self-awareness, assuming students, like Alex, can accurately evaluate their traits and interests. However, most students are still on a journey of self-discovery, and their self-assessments may not reflect their true interests and strengths.

Furthermore, traditional career assessments can present a narrow perspective. They often overlook crucial factors like job availability, earning potential, and work-life balance. Students who follow these assessments might find themselves in careers that align with their skills and perceived interests but that fall short of their broader life goals and practical market realities.

Moreover, an overdependence on assessment results can limit a student’s exploration of other fulfilling careers outside the suggested path, possibly stifling their adaptability and growth.

The ‘Start with Work’ Model: Flipping Career Education

To address these limitations, we are flipping the career education script to a ‘start with work’ model. This approach emphasizes an understanding of the essence of work before delving into individual self-interests. Students are taught the basics of work, the intricate mechanics of various workplace systems, the nuances of different work environments, and the diverse activities involved in any profession.

Work, in this model, is multi-layered: it’s the organizational system, the working environment within which work takes place, and the day-to-day job role activities and responsibilities. This understanding equips students with a realistic lens through which to view the world of work and helps students analyze different workplaces to better evaluate how they might fit into diverse roles and environments.

Alex’s Journey with the ‘Start with Work’ Approach

Let’s return to Alex. In the ‘start with work’ model, instead of dismissing public relations, he’s given a comprehensive understanding of the PR field, realizing that it too values quiet, thoughtful analysis. Not every role in the PR field involves speaking to the public. Alex now understands the multiple layers of public relations work and sees how his unique characteristics can fit into and enrich this field.

This ‘start with work’ approach promotes adaptability and versatility—traits that are crucial in today’s dynamic work environment. We encourage students to step out of their comfort zones to learn about diverse work cultures, technologies, and industries, which broadens their career prospects.

Additionally, by starting with work, students like Alex can begin to use career assessments and interest inventories as tools for validation and development due to their knowledge gained from starting work. These assessments can serve as checkpoints to confirm that career choices align with the students’ newfound understanding of work dynamics and environments. Students can also use the assessments to help refine their career paths with a clearer sense of purpose and direction.

Embrace Work, Then Self-Exploration Approach

Critics might argue that this approach will push students into unsuitable careers. However, this model doesn’t propose ignoring self-awareness; instead, it suggests integrating self-awareness with a practical understanding of work. It fosters a model of alignment and evolution, not dictation.

As we chart the course for a new paradigm in career education, we urge you to experience the ‘start with work’ approach firsthand. Empower your students to begin with a deep understanding of work—its systems, environments, and day-to-day activities. Encourage students to explore the work landscape first, allowing them to discover a broad range of possibilities that align with their unique selves. In doing so, we set them on a path toward a more resilient and fulfilling career. After all, when it comes to molding the careers of our future generation, isn’t it worth trying a fresh perspective? Because in this ever-evolving world, the round hole we thought we knew might just be a figment of our imagination.