Career Readiness: What It Is and Why You Need to Teach It
Jan 11 2022
Updated at: May 28 2024

Career Readiness: What It Is and Why You Need to Teach It?

Positive Action Staff
The process of preparing students, no matter their age, with the essential skills they’ll need to find, acquire, maintain, and grow in a job is what’s known as career readiness.

Career readiness provides students with a foundation from which they can demonstrate they have the necessary skills to broadly prepare them for success in the workplace.

It might seem obvious that students should receive an education that focuses on teaching them the skills required to succeed in real-world jobs. But unfortunately, as traditional education evolved with time, its focus shifted away from skill development and more towards theory.

This has created a gap in more evidence-based life skills curriculum and programs. These programs are geared towards helping students become aware of their natural abilities so it’s easier to set them up for success in life.

“Students need to be prepared to compete in a world that demands more than just basic skills.”

U.S. Department of Education

Because students face high expectations in the real world of college and careers, it’s important to ensure their success by aligning schools’ standards with the expectations they’ll encounter later on.

Career-ready students will have the skills to compete in today’s global, knowledge-based economy—regardless of their race, socioeconomic status, or geographic location.

The bottom line is that school should be the place where students can begin to prepare and equip themselves with career readiness skills.

What Is Career Readiness All About?

Career readiness describes a person’s ability to:

  • Find a suitable job in any industry and at any level
  • Understand the requirements and responsibilities of their role
  • Be successful in reporting and relating to various stakeholders such as customers, colleagues, and management
  • Grow professionally within their role

Since career readiness is all about preparing students for life after school, it must include both in-class instruction as well as internships, apprenticeships, or co-ops.

These outside-the-classroom opportunities encourage students to practice their newly acquired skills while picking up new real-world skills that just aren’t available in the classroom.

Career readiness skills, also known as transferable or employability skills, can often differentiate a good employee from a great one.

“Transferable or employability skills provide students with a competitive edge during interviews and internships for current and future careers.”

U.S. Chamber of Commerce Foundation

Unfortunately, schools haven’t always given these critical skills the priority that they should. This is surprising since career readiness can give students the edge they need to land jobs.

Additionally, with every state having a different standard for what career readiness should include, teaching this subject can often be challenging.

The important thing to remember is that career readiness should cover just about everything that has to do with a person entering the job market. The subject should include topics such as:

  • Career exploration: Students need to know which jobs will be great matches for them in the future
  • Professionalism: To teach students the kind of behavior expected in a workplace such as collaboration and work ethic
  • Essential skills: Includes communication, critical thinking, financial literacy, time management, emotional intelligence, and stress management to ensure student success in both the global economy and society

Why You Need to Teach Career Readiness

In a word, teaching career readiness is necessary because of the skills gap.

This is the disparity between the knowledge that employers want from job applicants and what the job applicants actually know.

The gap becomes a problem because organizations are not interested in teaching new employees all of the skills they’ll need to succeed.

When schools don’t teach the skills that employers are looking for, the result is a curious difference between what graduates have to offer and what the job marketplace really wants.

Career readiness closes this skills gap.

Given how fiercely competitive and ever-evolving the global job market is, students need all the preparation they can get in order to impress potential employers. They also need to be able to hit the ground running as soon as they’re hired.

Employers are now expecting new hires to bring more than the ‘hard’ skills they were hired for.

In the past, students would have learned vital on-the-job skills through opportunities like summer jobs.

Pew Research found that young adults between 15 and 21 years were much less likely to have a paid summer job than every previous generation for which the research data exists.

Since today’s students are also less likely to have been employed in the last year, they’re not learning the valuable life skills that can only be learned on the job.

Additionally, survey findings by Gallup revealed that only 3% and 5% of Americans believe that high school graduates are well prepared for success in college and the workplace, respectively.

If students don’t have the opportunity to acquire the skills they need from early work experience, they must attain them in the classroom.

How to Incorporate Career Readiness Activities Into Your Curriculum

Teaching theory alone is no longer sufficient.

Not when these life skills are the very tools they need in order to become successful adults.

Kids often spend more time in school than they do at home. For this reason, they can’t be left to learn career readiness in the home setting alone. Instead, both parents and teachers need to play an active role in preparing them for the future.

Even if a school doesn’t have a formal college or career readiness program, teachers can still bring related activities into their classrooms by:

1. Creating Opportunities for Work-Based Learning

Instructors can ask students to find professional mentors to shadow, whether it’s for a day or a longer duration.

Shadowing a mentor will expose the student to what it’s like to be engaged in a certain line of work.

To ensure the student actually shadows the professional, have them submit a report about their experience or request signed timesheets.

2. Connecting Students With Local Employers

Teachers can arrange opportunities for students to connect with and learn from professionals in the community.

Scheduling regular lunches or learning workshops, virtual Q&As, career fairs, or even workplace tours are just a few of the ways instructors can provide their students with early exposure to various careers.

3. Assigning Students Group Work to Encourage Collaboration

The best results in the workplace often come as a result of collaboration and teamwork.

Schools, unfortunately, are not set up to encourage students to cooperate. Instead, greater emphasis is put on individual work and high grades.

Giving students the chance to work together in groups, however, will help them improve their communication, problem-solving, and self-advocacy skills. These are invaluable assets, regardless of the career a student chooses to pursue.

Where We Are With Career Readiness Standards

Giving students a career education is a great way to help them develop the skills they need to evaluate potential career paths.

Indeed, career readiness has never been more important—not since the following facts came to light:


  • Remedial education
  • College attainment rates
  • College completion rates for young adults

How America’s Faring

  • About one third of students require it upon entering college
  • Not keeping pace with projected workforce needs
  • Currently ranked 12th globally

Career readiness is such a major subject today that states themselves have taken the lead in developing and adopting rigorous standards.

These standards, known as the Common Core State Standards, are for English language arts and mathematics. They were developed in a partnership between the National Governors Association and the Council of Chief State School Officers.

While the federal government hasn’t been involved in the design of these standards, it does support the state-led movement to ensure that all students are held to high standards for learning and achievement.

Not all states, however, have adopted the Common Core. In fact, different states teach according to different standards. These standards may overlap from one state to the next, but no two states have the same career readiness standards.

Additionally, different states may require career readiness to be taught in different grades. As such, it is best you get in touch with your administrator to find out your state’s standards if you don’t already know them.

You can also reach out to your colleagues to share ideas, practices, and strategies to help you best equip your students for career readiness.

Lastly, find out if you can incorporate the Positive Action program in your school.

This program prepares students for the workforce by helping them to develop the skills needed to evaluate potential career paths and to become productive employees.


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