Choosing Postsecondary Paths – Work, Military, Apprenticeship & More

Through the online First Career Steps Survey, The Skills Library has been gathering insights into high school students’ career planning. The survey, now with over 3,200 results, is available from the Skills Library home page or directly from this link.

With a trend toward more and more students entering college after high school, it is not surprising that most – 87.4% of respondents – indicate that they are planning to attend a 2-year or 4-year college after high school.

But what are the plans of the 12.6% who are not currently planning to attend college?  At this point, there are 411 survey respondents who indicated plans other than college, from a total of 3,259 survey respondents.  Many of these 411 respondents have specific plans: working full-time, entering the military, attending a career training program, entering an apprenticeship program.

Some are planning a “gap” year to work before starting college, sometimes saying that they want to work fulltime before going on to college; others mentioning specific plans such as spending a gap year in Israel or to spend a year writing a book.

When asked about specific career interests, many of the non-college-bound group have specific goals, mentioning military careers, construction trades and other career options.  Some of the career areas mentioned include carpentry, culinary, cosmetology, childcare, horse training, house painting, law enforcement, masonry, plumbing, pipefitting, truck driving and welding.  A few of those who plan to work full-time mention “working for my dad” – reflecting the once-more-common path of working for a family business.

This data provides a conversation-opener about alternative paths after high school.  With the current emphasis on college, are schools and youth programs doing enough to support other options and to help students find and navigate the wider variety of postsecondary choices?

Skills Library research and projects show that most of the strongest schools and youth programs show students that there ARE a wide range of postsecondary choices.   Rather than a polarized “college or work” set of choices, those who work closely and observantly with youth see a healthy range of options, with a blend of school, work, apprenticeship, on-the-job training and formal and informal learning as important elements in career and life paths.  They also see the early post-high-school years as being about much more than career development.  These are years when young adults are shaping their own approaches to all aspects of life, making day-to-day choices around not only careers and work, but also community involvement, civic engagement, voting and politics, faith/religious involvement, health, diet, exercise, and much more.   Many of the same skills that help young adults to navigate first career steps are valuable in navigating in all of these other day-to-day aspects of life.   Knowing how to network with others.  Finding mentors.  Communication skills.  Knowing how to use (or how to learn to use) all kinds of tools and technology.  Knowing how to analyze information.  Creativity and critical thinking.  An attitude of lifelong learning.

Food for thought:  What trends have you seen?  What are some promising career paths that are accessible through apprenticeship, on-the-job training and other full-time employment paths?  What is your school, youth program or community doing to support and acknowledge young adults choosing a variety of different paths after high school?  If you are a young adult who went from high school to work, training, apprenticeship or other options, what are the elements that have made it work well for you?


Seven Skills for Parks and Landscaping

What are the skills learned in jobs and internships in parks and landscaping?  How can summer jobs in park maintenance and landscaping be designed to help youth build skills and explore career options?  What types of projects and tasks enhance learning?  Here is an example of seven skills, with associated tasks, taken from a sample of Work-Based Learning Plans.

Skill Description
Horticulture and Plant Knowledge Demonstrate knowledge of garden plants, weeds and invasive species through successfully performing professional tasks including transplanting, watering, weeding and invasive plant removal.
Time Management Maintain a safe and steady pace of work.  Select tasks and manage workflow according to the availability of tools and materials, team members, weather and other factors.
Leadership Exercise critical thinking, creativity and leadership through participation in park improvement projects.  Projects may include, for example, creating or improving garden beds, upgrading signage in the park, repainting or refinishing benches and other park features, or other special projects.
Managing information / Using technology Collect and organize information in support of park projects.  Projects may include, for example, digital photography for park websites or end-of-summer presentations; maintaining a database of landscape plants or invasive species, updating a map of park features, or other special projects.
Using tools and equipment Select and use tools and equipment to complete park projects.  Demonstrate knowledge of how to select the best tools and equipment for each project; how to work safely with tools and equipment; and how to clean, store and maintain tools and equipment.
Environmental awareness Though special projects and/or end-of-summer presentations, demonstrate awareness of environmental themes related to park operations.
Career awareness Though special projects and/or end-of-summer presentations, demonstrate awareness of the roles of various professionals and volunteers in management of the park.


First Career Steps Survey: Student Career Interests

Report analysis by Jennifer Leonard and Tacara Guice.  Tacara Guice, database intern for The Skills Library, categorized the open-ended responses and prepared the graphics for this report.   Read more about The Skills Library on the “About” page.

The First Career Steps Survey asks students to list up to four career areas that they might be interested in.  Approximately 2,500 students have responded to the survey, identifying a variety of career areas.   The question is open-ended, with students writing in their career interests – some with specific goals such as wildlife photographer, pediatric nurse or sports psychologist; others with broad goals like working with children or starting a business.

We categorized the answers into groups, looking for common answers in order to define groups of similar interests.    Display 1 presents this analysis.  In the graphic, each icon represents approximately 25 students who expressed interest in the career area.

Go to Display 1 (opens in new window)

There were several clusters of common interests.

Students are attracted to fields that are large, highly visible and offering economic growth:

  • Healthcare – a large, highly visible and growing field.
  • Education,  Childcare, Human Services, Social Work and Counseling – large, visible fields offering a chance to “make a difference.”
  • Engineering – with many students mentioning a variety of specific engineering fields as well as engineering in general.
  • Law and Law Enforcement – with many students expressing interest in police work, forensics, FBI, law and other work in law and public safety.
  • Business – with some students expressing interest in business in general, or in specific concentrations.
  • Various science and math interests — especially biology, zoology and wildlife, along with veterinary and animal care occupations.

Many students listed popular fields that offer opportunities for creativity, a bit of glamour, or connections to trends in popular culture:

  • Game Design, Animation and Video Design
  • Fashion Design
  • Cosmetology
  • Graphic Design
  • Performing Arts
  • Sports, Fitness and Recreation

There are some career areas – especially some technology and technical areas – that were mentioned by relatively few students and that probably should get more attention:

  • Information Technology / Computer Programming / Networking
  • Web Design
  • Manufacturing / Skilled Trades
  • Mechanic / Repair / Skilled Trades

This data can be used for:

– Inspiration for lesson plans that apply academic work to career areas that naturally interest students.  Math and fashion design.  Science and forensics.  English Language Arts and journalism.
– Guidance for developing internships and inviting guest speakers to highlight career areas of interest.
– Guidance for increasing awareness in “under-noticed” career areas, in order to let students know about areas they might have overlooked.
– Food for thought for conversations with students about how to choose viable career paths.  What do you do with a passion for sports or acting or animation or fashion design?  Where can these interests lead you?  How do you balance the advice of “pursue your dreams” vs.  “be practical” vs. “seek out unique ways to turn your interests into a career?”

It is important to note that we don’t expect students to identify career interests in proportion to each career area’s share of the labor market.  In fact, other Skills Library surveys show that most adults didn’t know when they were in high school that they would be in their current career area.  Successful careers take shape over time.   Students will naturally be attracted initially to visible, well-known career areas.  These initial career interests are just a starting point.  From the inspiration of earliest career interests, students will gradually shape a career path, with the support of mentors, career information, early career experiences, and inspiring classes and teachers.  These early interests are a great place to start.

First Career Steps Survey Results: Building Confidence About the Future

In 2012, the Skills Library launched a survey called “First Career Steps Survey.”   Since the survey launch, over 2,500 students have taken the survey.   The original survey was shared with Massachusetts students through a network of career programs.  Since then, the survey remained online and has been “discovered” by many different schools, programs and individual students.  About half of the respondents indicated that they were directed to take the survey through their schools and community programs and about half indicated that they found the survey online when they were searching the web.  A few were referred to the survey by a friend or family member who found it online.   The respondents appear to come from all over the U.S., along with at least a few from Canada.

The survey is designed to be a positive, reflective experience.   The tone of the survey is designed to be reassuing, recognizing that career development is a long-term process, and that many high school students are just beginning to explore and set goals.  The survey takes about five to ten minutes to complete online, with the majority of respondents completing the survey in ten minutes or less.

Question 1 begins with an introduction and then asks respondents how they feel about career planning.  This question was designed to set a tone for the questionnaire, as well as to serve as a warm-up for respondents and provide a general sense about how confident, excited, or worried students feel about their career planning.

Question 1. HOW DO YOU FEEL when people ask you about your career plans? Do you feel confident, worried, ready for the future, or not-so-ready? DID YOU KNOW that many successful adults did not know when they were in high school that they would be in their current careers? Of course, many people chose a career path early on, studied for a particular career, and have enjoyed that career path all along. But for many people, careers evolve over time, as one career opportunity leads to another, and as they continually learn new skills and build their careers.  THIS SURVEY asks about your current career plans — with the assurance that it is fine if your career plans are continuing to evolve!!  Check all that apply —




vennThere is overlap among these categories. Not surprisingly, many students are both worried and excited…. both confident and excited….. even confident and worried and excited at the same time.

Are there factors that seem to be correlated with confidence and excitement about the future?  The survey goes on to ask about career goals, about career awareness, exploration and immersion experiences, and about confidence in a variety of career-related skills.  Clear patterns emerge:

* Students who have had in-depth career immersion experiences, including internships, summer programs related to career interests, and clubs and activities related to career interests, are most likely to express confidence and excitement in question #1.

* Students who have had more than one type of work experience — internships, after-school jobs, summer jobs and volunteer work,  are also most likely to express confidence and excitement in question #1.

* Students who took the survey through a school or community program (rather than finding the survey on their own) are also more likely to express confidence and excitement in question #1.

* Students who expressed high levels of confidence in their career skills in Question 6, a question that asks about career-related skills such as leadership, creative thinking, communication and professionalism, are also most likely to express confidence and excitement in question #1.

Question 6 asks students how confident they feel about career-related skills.  Students seemed to answer thoughtfully, providing a range of responses, showing in which areas they felt strong and in which not yet strong.  Like the responses to Question #1, these responses were strongly correlated to career awareness, exploration and immersion experiences.  Students who had had participated in internships, summer programs, career-related clubs and classes and other in-depth experiences showed the most confidence in these skills.

Question 6: How would you rate your strength in the following career skills?




Please check back for additional posts about survey results.  Also please see for sources of discussion of the original survey results.



Seven Skills for Arts Internships

Word CloudWhat are the skills learned in arts-related internships and summer jobs?  How is the practice of creativity and artistic skills in a professional art studio different from in a classroom setting?  What are the practical skills used in careers in the arts?

Internship experiences in the arts can allow students to work with mentors on arts projects — learning about the business and marketing aspects of careers in the arts , learning professional techniques,  learning how to give and receive feedback on artwork, learning to take creativity to a new level. What skills do students practice in arts internships?

Here is an example of seven skills, taken from a sample of Work-Based Learning Plans.

Skill Description
Creativity and Critical Thinking Generating ideas and concepts; working with colleagues to evaluate options and make choices. Being fluent in generating one’s one ideas while also being open to ideas of others.
Gallery Space Design Organizing and enhancing selling space in a gallery.
Hanging an Exhibition Understanding and applying best practices for presenting artwork for an art exhibition.
Framing, glass cutting, matting Learning and practicing techniques for mounting and framing artwork.
Computer Technology and Equipment Operation Using software, cameras, and other equipment to produce digital images, prints, brochures and other marketing and display materials.
Research Gathering information about clients, local organizations, local history, and other topics related to artistic work, public art, marketing and communications.
Artistic Technique Gaining fluency in techniques relevant to the project, such as sketching, painting, mixed-media, collage, calligraphy, ….


Seven Skills in Graphic Design

sp19aMany students use graphic design in their work-based learning experiences, both as the primary focus — in graphic design internships — and as a key skill within internships, summer jobs and student-led projects in the arts, community service, entrepreneurship, journalism, education, museum work and other fields.

Students may be engaged in creating logos, signs, brochures and posters, creating and updating websites, creating and updating print publications, developing graphics for exhibits and art shows, or other design projects.

Here is a list of seven skills for graphic design experiences, drawn from a sample of Work-Based Learning Plans.

Skill Description
Active Learning Using a variety of methods (reading, online research, workshops, etc.) to learn about design software and design principles.
Creativity and Critical Thinking Generating ideas; drafting design concepts; working with colleagues to evaluation options and make choices. Being fluent in generating one’s one ideas while also being open to ideas of others.
Design Principles Understanding and applying design theory. Developing an eye for design.  Learning and applying concepts of color, contrast, scale and typography.
Organizing Information Organizing computer files, following file naming conventions. Organizing information into folders and subfolders. Archiving old information.
Photo editing Formatting pictures for use in publications and websites, including adjusting file size and canvas size, cropping and color correction.
Research Gathering information about client organizations, local community, local businesses, local events or other topics for publications and websites.
Using Technology Becoming fluent in the use of graphic design software and related software.


Seven Skills for Fashion Internships

In honor of Boston Fashion Week* here is a feature on skills for fashion-related internships.  Examples of fashion-related internships (from sample Massachusetts work-based learning programs) include:

  • Working in fashion retailing.
  • Working as an intern in a fashion design setting.
  • Working in a student entrepreneurship program focused on apparel and jewelry design.
  • Helping to teach in a sewing program for younger children.

In these settings, interns take on varied tasks in order to learn skills for careers related to design, retailing and fashion. Interns can learn and practice business skills, merchandising, sales, and customer service, as well as sewing and design skills.  Interns may work in merchandising and sales roles.  Interns may help with tailoring, design, and alterations for customers.  Interns can be involved in special events, website and social media promotion and other aspects of product marketing.   Interns are encouraged to be knowledgeable and enthusiastic about fashion trends and continually to seek out fashion and product knowledge.

Here are seven skills related to fashion internships, selected from a sample of Work-Based Learning Plans.

Skill Description
Merchandising Selecting and dressing mannequins; selecting outfits for display; selecting colors and sizes for display;  maintaining retail displays.
Sales and Customer Service Assisting customers with selection of apparel and gifts.Comfortably building rapport when meeting customers.Supporting customer buying decisions by sharing information about the company products, such as information  about fit, fabric, and styling.   Representing the company in a professional manner at all times.  Respecting the confidentiality and diversity of all customers.
Product Knowledge // Active Learning Being knowledgeable and enthusiastic about current fashion/trends.  Consistently seeking new fashion and product knowledge to serve as an expert for our customer.
Business Skills Becoming familiar with the tasks related to owning and managing a business, including bookkeeping, marketing (including Facebook and a web site), organizational systems and computer systems.Computer skills include inputting and editing inventory; entering customer information; updating social media; miscellaneous data entry and retrieval.
Design and Pattern Making  Learning the elements of fashion design by drawing, pattern making, draping and pinning, and enlarging/reducing patterns.
Garment Fittings Becoming familiar with garment fittings, including reading commercial patterns, adjusting patterns, modifying clothes, pinning, hemming to correct length, taking garments apart, adjusting and installing zippers etc.
Event Planning and Marketing Assisting with the planning and execution of special marketing events. Taking photos of outfits and new merchandise for website and social media sites.



** For more about events of Boston Fashion Week, October 5-11, 2014, see


Seven Skills for Physical Therapy Internships

A physical therapy intern has an opportunity to become familiar with professional skills used in a physical therapy clinic while providing support for the staff and patients through a variety of office and clinical tasks. Interns can become familiar with office procedures, including record-keeping, scheduling and billing, with equipment operation and maintenance, and with clinical tasks such as finding and printing out exercise routines, providing patient “set-ups” such as cold-packs and heat-packs, and greeting patients and helping them get started up in the gym.

What are the skills used in internships?  Here is a sample of seven skills, based on Work-Based Learning Plans in the database.

Skill Description
Active Learning Show initiative in learning career skills by observing treatments, shadowing PTs, asking questions about purpose and outcome treatments.  Also learn the “FLOW” of an outpatient PT clinic and work to maintain that flow.
Customer Service / Interacting with Patients Become comfortable interacting with patients by greeting each one and bringing them into the gym for warm ups. Intern will also assist with instruction and education.
Equipment Operation Intern will learn the proper use of equipment and help to maintain and clean equipment.  Under supervision of mentor, intern will supervise patients while using the machinery.
Computer Technology Develop fluency in use of specialized computer programs, including:
– Learning and demonstrating knowledge of data collection using the TekScan wearable footwear sensor system.
– Learning and demonstrating use of 3D Motion Analysis software.
– Using Excel to assist in monthly analysis of clinical data.
Office Skills Show professionalism and careful attention to detail in performing office tasks, including:
– Pulling charts for upcoming patients.
– Assisting with copying of HEP (Home Exercise Programs) for patients.
– Scheduling patient appointments.
– Making and organizing patient files.
– Filing insurance and patient paperwork.
Research / Web Searches Use computer to find exercise programs and print out copies for patients.
Vocabulary Become familiar with the vocabulary used in the clinical setting. Use knowledge of vocabulary when conducting web searches and other research tasks.

Seven Skills for Childcare Internships

colorsq2Many youth employment programs provide opportunities for teens to work in early childhood education settings: in childcare programs, summer day camps, preschool and kindergarten classrooms. Interns may work as teaching assistants, assisting with child’s activities as well as general classroom duties such as organizing materials, preparing snacks and general cleaning.  Interns may prepare lessons for the class, with teaching and activities appropriate to the age of the group of children.  Interns may have the opportunity to come up with “activities in a pinch” – those quick games and art projects that can be organized and introduced quickly when an activity is needed.  Interns may work with children on early reading and math literacy, as well as art, music, science, nature study and other children’s interests.

What are the skills that interns practice in these settings?   Here is an example of seven skills from a summer internship in a childcare center.

Skill Description
Child Development Demonstrating understanding of age appropriate activities, communication and behavior for assigned age group
Organizing materials Keeping art materials, toys and other materials organized. Making sure that materials are easy to find and ready to use.
Art and Creativity Exploring your creativity while inspiring others through various art projects.
Leadership and Role Modeling Role modeling appropriate behavior (being polite, positive, using appropriate language) Encouraging children to participate, by actively participating.
Reading and Literacy Encouraging children‘s literacy skills by participating in story-time and other reading related activities.
Math Encouraging children to learn and practice basic math skills by counting, using the calendar, noticing shapes and noticing patterns.
Safety Procedures Following safety procedures and regulations. Successfully completing CPR and other safety training.

Seven Skills for Summer Internship Special Projects

Screen print from GIS mapping program

What type of information do interns work with for your organization? Shown here, a screen from a GIS mapping program.

In lots of workplaces, summertime is the season for summer interns and special projects.  The ideal project is one that is valuable to your organization; provides the intern with insight into your organization and field of work; will require a significant number of hours of work; and involves skills and tasks that you can teach to a short-term intern.

For example, in the past I have hired interns to work on maps using online mapping software, to lay out database screens for a large database project, and to update a series of PowerPoint presentations.  In each case, I had already designed the project and identified the software needed, the steps involved, and the general look of the project.  I left some of the decision-making to the interns so that they could put their own stamp on the finished project.

Many summer internships involve interesting special projects.  Inventorying trees for a city.  Cataloging materials for a museum.  Developing a database of stock photos for a marketing department.  Creating a local directory of local social services. Putting an organization’s employee handbook or safety manual online.

What are the skills that interns develop and use in these projects?  Here an example of a set of seven skills:

Skill Description
Project management Using organizational tools and strategies to keep track of your project step-by-step.  This may include using checklists, calendars, stylesheets, project notebooks and other tools as needed by the project.
Managing information Gathering and organizing information for the project.  Paying attention to accuracy of information; making sure that information is complete; avoiding duplication.  [For example: gathering garden names, volunteer names, photos and location coordinates for park gardens for a park mapping project.]
Applied Mathematics Being able to discuss and use basic math concepts.  [For example: understanding the coordinates system used in computer layouts or understanding the use of latitude and longitude in mapping programs.]
Problem Solving Being alert to identify problems, such as missing information, duplicated information or software issues.   Systematically identifying potential solutions, communicating with supervisor and other team members to determine best solutions, and applying the solution(s).  Writing notes and sharing any agreements about what steps to take in the future for the issue.
Using Technology Becoming fluent in the use of relevant software programs.  Systematically managing computer files and folders for the project, including spreadsheets, photos, documents and other materials.  Properly using usernames and passwords to maintain the safety and confidentiality of information.
Active Learning Taking initiative to learn about the scope of the project, organizational goals, and the software and technology being used.  Looking at the organization website, reading manuals and other resources as needed.  Asking questions relevant to the project.
Career Development Using the internship experience to explore career interests and find out about future opportunities related to this field.