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Setting the Vision for Creating a Career Superhighway

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By Matt Doyle, the executive director of iCERP

icerp_career superhighway.jpgSetting an effective vision for the future is a tricky business. It has to start with a kernel of an idea, but allow sufficient space for the community to develop it into an organic representation of the desired future state. The purpose of this blog post is to provide the first status update on the progress of the International Center for Educational Research and Practice (iCERP), housed at Vista Unified school district (Calif.), to build the structure for a Career Superhighway.

As with any complex project, the design process is intended to be inclusive of a variety of stakeholders so that the vision and design of the project represents the aspirations and interests of the people who will operationalize them: students, teachers, community leaders, business leaders, etc. While the process itself is complex, I have boiled it down into three steps that will lead to a viable vision and plan of action: 1. Level-Setting, 2. Design and Improve, 3. Season the Ideas. This post focuses on Step 1: Level-Setting. To access agendas and slide decks that track our progress, visit the Relevant Hall on the iCERP website.

icerp_careerquote590x268.pngA bit of background before we start.

In "Creating a Career Superhighway," I outlined a bold project that iCERP has taken on to address the relevance gap between the learning experience for K-12 students and the dynamic career pathways found in the increasingly complex world of work. The intent of this project is to create a network of career-development pathways for all students that eliminate the gap between their career aspirations and gainful employment in a growing priority sector upon graduation. In other words, we want to get students into career explorations aligned to their aspirations while they progress through their education rather than hope for a career opportunity to magically walk up and knock on the front door the day after graduation.

Step 1: Level-Setting

Status: Complete

Our primary focus during the initial phase of the Career Superhighway design was to level set the design team. Having participated in many vision-setting and design meetings over the past 20 years, the number one area of difficulty I have seen derail the process is the extreme divergence of perspectives on the topic. Think about it, if you bring a group of 20-30 community members together to design a vision and plan, the likelihood of members bringing varying ideas to the sessions will be as broad as the roles in the community they represent. Students will have their unique perspective, teachers another, business leaders will come with very different views, and parents will be armed with still more perspectives and intuitions about what should be done for their children.

icerp_careerprep2018.pngLevel-setting is a process that can be best understood using the housing-foundation analogy. Imagine if you were building a house and the various construction workers who were pouring the foundation did not verify that the footings for the concrete were level. In other words, the construction workers did not calibrate their work with each other using a common instrument (a level) so that the floor of the home does not slope to one side or the other. If this were the case, the house would never seem right to the homeowners, always feeling a little off when they walked from one room to another.

Using this lesson as a reminder, the iCERP team arranged for two level-setting sessions with the Career Superhighway design team. The purpose of the sessions was to engage in a landscape scan of the current state of career pathways, activities, and projects already in play. This process not only built common background among the members of the team, it also recognized and acknowledged the existing structures that currently promote career pathways. Rather than discard the past practices, the level-setting process created the opportunity to map the bright spots of current practices and activities that may be designed into the new vision and plan of action.

We also used these two sessions to create a common understanding of the compelling statistics and arguments for resetting the vision for career pathways. I like to call this part of the planning sessions the "time travel" portion of our work. Let's face it, we all tend to live in the moment, with very little thought to where we will be or what we will be doing in five to 10 years. But when you think about it, a freshman in high school will not be moving into a career for about five years; a 6th grader, almost 10 years. Still more frightening is that a new kindergarten student will not enter their career for more than 15 years; putting us in the year 2034! Time travel is kind of like traveling from one region of the United States to another. Before you leave for a trip from Southern California to northern Minnesota in January, would you think carefully about what you pack for the trip? If not, you will arrive with little to no resources to combat a very different environment. Good luck with your shorts and T-shirt! Similarly, with time travel for our students, we need to be careful to consider what we pack into the learning pathways during their journey toward gainful employment. The metaphorical T-shirt and shorts just won't do.

These key themes emerged from discussions during our level-setting sessions:

  • Focus pathway development on skills and dispositions.
  • Ensure a systematic and intentional program that is guaranteed for all students.
  • Revise Graduate Profile to include career preparation and placement.
  • Embed Career Superhighway plan into classroom instruction so that it is seen as important as learning to read and write.
  • Articulate developmentally appropriate activities between preschool, elementary, middle, and high school levels.
  • Align "experienceships," internships, preapprenticeships, and apprenticeships to industry certifications, employment opportunities, and priority sectors in the region.
  • Leverage existing CTE programs and pathways.

iCERP and the Career Superhighway of the Future

At iCERP, we consider ourselves explorers in shaping this new world. In partnership with the University of California, San Diego, the San Diego Workforce Partnership, and Next Generation Learning Challenges, iCERP is embarking on a journey to build the career superhighway of the future. It is a daunting task and represents one of the largest change-management initiatives undertaken in K-12 education. On our iCERP Advisory Board we are fortunate to have Sandra Brown of UC San Diego, Jason Spencer and Kristen Brown of the California Department of Education, Carrie D'Ascoli of Google, Robert Westfall of Solatube, Phil Blair of Manpower Global, Andy Calkins of Next Generation Learning Challenges, Karen Cator of Digital Promise, and Jack Kahn of Palomar Community College. Together we are working with the community in Vista, Calif., to define this new ecosystem of talent. 

I look forward to keeping you posted on our progress.


Images, from top:

  • Career Superhighway (iCERP)
  • Career Preparation Current Status Map 2018 (iCERP)
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