Career Development for All: Take Stock and Plan Your Next Steps

In my previous post (click here to read!), I talked about the folly of subsidizing postsecondary tuition for a student who hasn’t engaged in any type of impactful career development. What exactly, is impactful Career development? Based on reviews of research, literature, and practice (detailed in my book the Power and Promise of Pathways), the best model of career development is done through a K-12 incremental approach. In much the same way we say that today’s children are “digital natives,” a K-12 approach to career development would deeply embed “career literacy” in our next generation of American talent.

Here’s a graphic we developed to explain how career development advances through elementary school, middle school, and high school.


If you want to read the components more easily, I’ll list them out here:

Elementary, K-5

Career Exploration

Begin to —

  • Understand concept of work
  • Identify current & new careers
  • Build excitement about personal career
  • Learn the RIASEC career personality model (Holland code)
  • Test and identify personal RIASEC codes
  • See connection between careers and education
  • Value high school graduation

Middle, 6-8

Career Exploration

Deepen understanding of —

  • Personal interests and strengths
  • Careers – interests & strengths
  • Education and training factors
  • Technical and employability skills
  • High School courses aligned to career interests

Develop 1st draft – Personal Career & Education Plan (MUST be revisited annually, and parents involved too!)

High School, 9-12

Career Immersion and Preparation

Engage in opportunities to —

  • “Try out” career interests through CTE & other courses, career-focused work-based learning
  • Earn industry-recognized certifications and early college credits
  • Explore postsecondary options
  • Participate in career mentoring
  • Develop technical and employability skills
  • Understand personal finances
  • Consider aspects of building a business

Notice that each component continues while you start to add the new components. The grade levels are approximations with some blurry lines from one phase to the next. It’s the developmental sequence that is most important.

Postsecondary and Adult Education

For young adults and adults in postsecondary/adult education settings, these developmental components need to be highly compressed since you no longer have the luxury of a K-12 sequence. However, you want to make sure the foundations are solid before an adult learner locks in on a career plan. While you may move quickly through the Career Awareness and Exploration phase, you need to make sure there’s a thorough understanding of the RIASEC model and growing self-awareness of how to apply the model. Don’t short circuit the learning process with an assessment that “tells” the learner what kind of careers they should pursue. Without a good foundation, they make a choice out of confusion or desperation that doesn’t really fit and ultimately sets them back even further in terms of money and self-esteem. Help them discover and explore but even if you move quickly, cover all the concepts. While young adults may have intuited some concepts over time, but you can still bring much greater clarity and structure to their thinking and decision processes about careers by giving them a vocabulary and framework to work with.


Wherever you are, the time to start is now. Get together with some teachers, faculty, administrators, and community members to conduct a self-assessment. For each of these factors, ask “where is our school or program on a factor of 1-5?” Score the component as a “1” if it is more or less non-existent and score it as a “5” when every student is experiencing that component. Use your judgment to assign a 2, 3, or 4. 

Getting Started and Planning Long-Term

Identify the most likely starting point where you can get some traction and gain a visible short-term win within the next six to 12 months. Then use this simple model to plan a longer term Career Development for All approach for your students in a school district or adult-level program. As you plan this component of the pathways system model, it will also impact pathway program offerings, employer engagement, and development of your profile of a graduate.


Please let me know if your district, college or adult education program has a story to tell about making real progress over a three to five year period with Career Development. I would like to interview and learn more. Could you send me a direct email with a few of the essentials:  What you’re doing, when you got started, and how far along are you on that 1-5 scale. You can contact me at [email protected]. Thanks!!

Hans Meeder is President of NC3T, the National Center for College and Career Transitions (  NC3T provides planning, coaching, technical assistance and tools to help community-based leadership teams plan and implement their college-career pathway systems and strengthen employer connections with education 

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