Preparing Teenagers for the Future of Work

By Betsy Jewell

Donald Super’s theory of career development states that the life stages of growth and exploration are inherent to the process of acquiring knowledge of how one’s interests and abilities align with the requirements of occupations. Virtually all high school students are in the exploratory stage of their career development. (Kosine et al., 2008). Therefore, high school is an optimal time to begin the career exploration process. Career services professionals will want to note the value and ways they can assist teenagers in preparing for the future of work.

Filling the Employee Skills Gap

Nine out of 10 employers say they are unable to fill positions because of a skills gap, and 29% agree that the skills gap has increased compared to a year ago. (Monster, 2022). In a recent interview conducted with Dr. Tony Wagner, author of several best-selling books including, “The Global Achievement Gap”, Dr. Wagner shared his list of “Seven Survival Skills” that all young people will need to be successful in career, college and citizenship. According to Dr. Wagner, the ability to ask good questions and to lead by influence are two critical skills identified as important by employers today. These skills, along with agility and adaptability, initiative and entrepreneurship, and curiosity and imagination, are often referred to as “soft skills”, but there is nothing soft about them. They are fundamental for success in the workplace, but they are not always emphasized in high schools today. (Wagner, 2021).

Cultivating Career Readiness

Research indicates that 35% of workers, including about three-in-ten adults with at least a bachelor’s degree, say they do not have the education and training they need to get ahead at work. (Pew Research Center, 2016). An overwhelming number of young adults are graduating from college but are still not career ready for the jobs they will pursue. Often, they will be required to gain additional skills needed for the job. Developing those skills will typically require a credential, certification or on-the-job training.

High schools students could benefit if allowed more time to identify their own aptitudes, what skills they will need in future careers and how to obtain them. Implementing tools and resources to allow students time to explore their aptitudes, what their values are, and where their interests lie may provide assistance as they plan for their future. Focusing only on where students will go to college and tips for securing admission limits their ability to gain awareness about and further explore alternative paths. Offering robust Career and Technical Education (CTE) program in high schools will provide students opportunities to consider post-high school career options and does not detract from the possibility of college. Students taking more quality CTE classes are just as likely to pursue a four-year degree as their peers. (Lorenzo, 2018; Dougherty, 2016).

Instilling a Lifelong Learning Mentality

Lifelong learning is defined as the practice of continuing to learn throughout one’s life, especially outside of or after the completion of formal schooling. (Dictionary.com, 2022). Learning doesn’t take place only in the classroom and it does not end once the diploma is granted. Workers know that in order to face inevitable workplace changes, they must continue to obtain training and develop new skills (Selingo et al, 2017). Instilling a lifelong learning mindset from as early as Kindergarten and throughout high school graduation will teach young learners to pursue learning for self-development and growth. (Jasnani, 2021). Never before have so many opportunities for learning been so accessible and affordable. Online platforms and non-traditional education paths provide learners the ability to customize and personalize what they learn, how they learn, where they learn and when they learn.

Photo By Jesus Rodriguez On Unsplash

Steps to Help Students to Prepare for the Future of Work

Career services professionals in the school community are able to help students prepare for the future. Through the models and tools available, professionals can aid in following ways:

Self-Discovery: Help students gain an understanding of what they enjoy, what they are good at and where those two intersect. Use assessment tools and resources to help them identify their aptitudes, values and interests. Encourage more career exploration and exposure during high school through online research, job shadowing, career fairs and part-time jobs.

Skills Development: Provide opportunities for students to develop their “survival skills” as noted above. Help students choose classes and activities that interest them even if they are not designated as required for the typical college-prep track. Encourage students to join clubs, volunteer, get a part time job, or take a class outside of school to tap into non-traditional high school learning and skills development.

Mindset Shift: Remind students that high school and college are just the beginning of their lifelong learning journey. They will continue to learn and grow, up-skill and re-skill throughout their career. Encourage them to embrace all new experiences as learning opportunities, not only to improve their employability skills but to also improve the quality of their life.

Career Professionals, Teenagers and the Future

Teenagers are not the only ones who must focus on the future. “Career practitioners owe it to those they serve to facilitate the development of a proactive, vigilant mindset” to future-proof their careers (Jarvis, 2022). Working together, teenagers and career services professionals can take steps to be prepared for the future of work.



Dictionary.com. (2022). Lifelong learning definition & meaning. Dictionary.com. https://www.dictionary.com/browse/lifelong-learning

Dougherty, S. M. (2016, April 7). Career and technical education in high school: Does it improve student outcomes? Thomas B. Fordham Institute. https://fordhaminstitute.org/national/research/career-and-technical-education-high-school-does-it-improve-student-outcomes

Jarvis, D. G. (2022). Future-proofing careers: How to help clients stay vigilant, relevant, and marketable. Career Convergence. https://www.careerconvergence.org/aws/NCDA/pt/sd/news_article/424705/_self/CC_layout_details/false

Jasnani, P. (2021, May 27) Advantages of lifelong learning for the younger generations. Hurix Digital. https://www.hurix.com/advantages-of-lifelong-learning-for-the-younger-generations/

Kosine, N. R., & Lewis, M. V. (2008). Growth and exploration: Career development theory and programs of study. Career and Technical Education Research, 33(3), 227-243 https://scholar.lib.vt.edu/ejournals/CTER/v33n3/pdf/kosine.pdf

Lorenzo, S.. (2018, April 24). High school secrets for success: Pathways for all students. https://www.greatschools.org/gk/articles/high-school-success-pathways-for-all-students/

Monster. (2022). The future of work: Monster 2022 Global Report. Monster.com. https://media.monster.com/marketing/2022/The-Future-of-Work-2022-Global-Report.pdf

Pew Research Center. (2016). The state of American jobs. https://www.pewresearch.org/social-trends/2016/10/06/the-state-of-american-jobs/

Selingo, J. J., & Simon, K. (2017, October 9). The future of your career depends on lifelong learning. Forbes. https://www.forbes.com/sites/schoolboard/2017/10/09/the-future-of-your-career-depends-on-lifelong-learning/?sh=17b585161bd7

Wagner, T. (2021). Seven survival skills for 21st century learners with Dr. Tony Wagner [Podcast]. The High School Hamster Wheel. https://highschoolhamsterwheel.com/66/



Betsy JewellBetsy Jewell is a GCDF certified Career Coach coach and owner of Betsy Jewell Coaching. She is passionate about helping young people discover the path that is best for them. When she's not providing career coaching to teens and young adults, you can find her behind the microphone hosting the High School Hamster Wheel podcast. Visit her website at betsyjewellcoaching.com or email her at info@betsyjewell.com.


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