Ask your students, “What do you want to be when you grow up?” And you may hear anything from princess to doctor to professional athlete.

Ask your students, “What do you want to be when you grow up?” And you may hear anything from princess to doctor to professional athlete.

Surprisingly, students make important career-related decisions in elementary school, according to a study published in the Professional School Counselor Journal. In fact, half of a group of 9- and 10-year-olds surveyed believed they had already made decisions that would impact their future careers.

The same study found that their choices are typically shaped by three factors:

  • Parents’ work experiences
  • Gender-specific roles
  • Interests and desires

Over time, students’ career aspirations will become more specific and realistic. But now is a great time to expand students’ horizons by exploring both traditional and nontraditional careers and connecting the dots between school and career. And after school programs have a unique opportunity to provide career exploration in a fun, meaningful way.

5 Ways to Incorporate Career Readiness in After School Programs

The objective of career readiness isn’t to discourage students from pursuing their dreams. At this stage, the focus should be career awareness: helping them gain knowledge about careers, explore career interests and understand the connections between career development and education.

Below are a few ideas for promoting career readiness in your program:

Provide career exploration activities.

Help students explore their career interests through fun, interactive activities. Teachers Pay Teachers has a Career Exploration section with a variety of career-focused activities for K-5 students. They can play Career BINGO to learn about different jobs and their responsibilities. Or participate in mock interviews for their future career. This is a great way for students to think about careers in a low-pressure environment.

Organize tours to explore different industries.

Introduce students to diverse careers with field trips to local businesses and organizations. They can tour the facilities, meet selected employees and get a better idea of what happens on a day-to-day basis. These tours will also give students a firsthand look at what it takes to work in a specific field.

Invite professionals from the community into your program.

Ask local professionals to share their work experiences with students. They can discuss their job responsibilities, why they decided to pursue their career and what it took to get the job.

If possible, provide a hands-on activity that allows students to experience one aspect of the job. For instance, a lawyer may conduct a mock trial or a physical therapist may guide students through a few stretches and exercises. As a bonus, ask professionals to wear their work uniform or attire when they come to speak!

Practice goal setting.

Goal setting is an important step in career planning and development. Give students the opportunity to practice the habit of setting short- and long-term goals and mapping out steps to achieve them. The key is to teach students the value in setting goals to achieve success in all areas, including career development.

This goal-setting activity from uses the story Amazing Grace to demonstrate how to set and reach goals as well as how to overcome any obstacles to their goals. Alternatively, students can map out career-related goals using this Roadmap to Success activity.

Foster social-emotional skills.

Problem solving, interpersonal skills and resiliency are all on the list as the skills most valued by employers. But unfortunately, growing evidence shows that many students entering the workforce lack these skills.

After school programs, however, are uniquely positioned to develop these social-emotional (SEL) skills in students. Provide SEL games and activities that combine fun and learning. Or browse our collection of SEL articles for tips and strategies to incorporate social-emotional development into your program.

Students shouldn’t wait until high school to begin thinking about their career. Exploring career options and understanding the connection between school and careers early on can give students a headstart on obtaining a job they love after high school or college.

How do you promote career readiness in your after school program?