Middle school career exploration is an important thing to integrate into your curriculum or school programs. Think for a second, how many people do you know that don’t love their career? I’m sure you’re thinking of a specific person or a few people right now, maybe even yourself.
The number of people that are unhappy with their career choice is growing every day and it’s a problem that we can help with as middle school teachers. It all starts with middle school career exploration. Careers are always evolving and growing into new opportunities and we need to assist our students in exploring as many of those opportunities as possible.
Our students will be in career fields that don’t even exist yet! How wild is that?
Here are some ways to help plan your student’s middle school career exploration opportunities.
Middle School Career Exploration Lesson Ideas
Learn About Career Clusters First
Career Clusters are exactly what they sound like, they are groupings of careers into similar clusters. There are a total of 16 Career Clusters that encompass current and future careers. This list https://careertech.org/career-clusters breaks down each cluster.
Some examples of Career Clusters are:
- Agriculture, Food & Natural Resources
- Education & Training
- Law, Public Safety, Corrections & Security
- Science, Technology, Engineering & Mathematics (STEM)
Something that has 16 key points is a lot for middle schoolers to focus on, so traditional methods of lecturing may not work out with the attention span of middle school students. Introduce each career cluster and follow up with the high points of each along with some careers that fall into that cluster.
Ask students to give you their predictions of which careers fall under what cluster and ask them how they will remember each one; typically this gets their minds turning and in gear to remember where each career falls.
Note: Some careers will fall under multiple clusters, you may just want to give your students a heads up for that. For instance, a surgeon would fall under Health Science as well as STEM.
Career Cluster Game
An idea for an activity to learn and review is a career cluster version of Charades and Pictionary! It’s a very simple concept and little prep and students love it! The only thing you need to do for prep is to create cards with the names of careers. You can be as vague or as specific as you want.
Students are in teams and one player comes up and draws a card. They either have to act out a career within the cluster on the card, or they have to sketch something out (like a tool or utensil used in that career/cluster).
Create Career Videos
Another way to get middle school career exploration taught in your classroom is to get videos from professionals. Reach out to professionals in a wide variety of fields and have them send you a short video explaining what they do. Ask everyone you know, and ask everyone at your school to ask everyone they know. Put a call out to your school community. Write up a standard email that people can use.
Typically, it is easier for both of you if you send them a list of questions for them to answer in the video, such as:
- What is your career?
- How did you get started?
- What post-secondary education is required for this job?
- What got you interested in this field?
- Do you see this career growing?
- What will this career look like in 10 – 20 years?
- What advice do you have for students interested in this career?
- And anything else you can share with the students?
You could create a short video guide for students to use or have them summarize the video in their own words in a discussion post or on paper. After the video, discuss the career and ask the students what cluster they think that career falls into. This helps a lot because they can put a face with a career and a cluster.
Don’t Ignore The Trades
Students must know how valuable jobs in the trades are as well as how well-paying they are. Show students clips from the popular TV show Dirty Jobs. Here is a YouTube playlist to help you find careers to discuss with your students.
Warning: Watch the episode ahead of time and use your discretion on whether the clip will work in your classroom based on the content, language and students’ maturity levels.
Additional Trades Resources
- What are Skilled Trades? (Pathways to Success)
- 10 Reasons to Consider a Career in the Skilled Trades – Maclean’s
- The importance of skilled trades and why you should consider one
The old-school “aptitude test” has gotten a major upgrade! Have your students work through a career assessment as a form of middle school career exploration. Career assessments are an excellent tool for students to explore different careers and find things that interest them that they may not have ever thought of.
I’ve listed some links below, but when looking at career assessments you want to find one that breaks down the different aspects of career exploration: interests, skill confidence, and work values.
- Interests are self-explanatory, it is what students are currently interested in! It is important to let students know that their interests will probably change as they get older, but what they are most interested in usually stays in the same realm.
- Skills confidence is how confident students are in different skills. So, not “can I build a dog house?”, but rather, “If I had instructions, do I think I could build a dog house?”. It is about their confidence in the ability to perform a specific task, not necessarily the skill itself. I’ve never surfed, but with a trainer do I think I could learn?
- Work values are the third trait to look for. These are the things at work that students would value the most. Things like paid time off, a positive and supportive work environment, salary, etc. This helps students narrow down what is most important to them other than what they like to do.
It is important to have all 3 of these aspects represented when taking a career assessment to get the best results.
Enneagram types are a new way of looking at careers and our core values. Enneagram types are not new, but they are gaining more popularity in people’s personal and professional lives. It helps people understand why they feel the way they do about certain things or situations surrounding them.
Career Assessment Resources
- Career OneStop (USA)
- Job Bank (Canada)
- Career Professionals of Canada (Canada)
- Enneagram Career Quiz: What Career is Right for Me? – Study Essentials
- The Enneagram for the Workplace
Always review website content before providing it to your students to ensure it has not changed since your last visit.
Career Exploration and Research Project
After all of these middle school career exploration activities, have your students select a career to research. You can use this Career Exploration and Research Project to help with this task.
Students get to deep dive into a career of their choice following a guided assignment process – brainstorming, research, career poster creation, and oral presentation with scheduled check-ins throughout the process to ensure project completion. Level and points-based assessment sheets are provided in this assignment.
Then you can have students present their careers to the class using a traditional poster board presentation or a One Pager-type assignment to teach the other students about their careers. This gives students a chance to research, present, and learn from each other.
“Love Love Love THIS! Thank you so much for sharing! My 8th graders love the activities and I felt like they were engaged with this unit the entire time!”
Career Current Events
Since the world of careers is ever-evolving, students (and teachers) need to stay up to date on what is going on in the world of careers. A great assignment to kick this off with is some type of Career Current Events Assignment. Here is a great article for students to read about how the workplace is changing since the pandemic, it includes what employees and employers are looking for in this new age we are living in.
Another current events example is the podcast segment “Some companies are luring workers back to the office with butlers” from the Nov. 27, 2022 Cost of Living podcast from CBC. Find the segment linked in this article.
You can use any article, news segment, or podcast about how careers are evolving. You could assign an online discussion post or you can utilize classroom discussion. The way that careers are now is not the way they will be when these students enter the workforce, and they need to understand that and know ways to learn about current careers on their own when they leave your classroom.
Track Research Salary Changes Over Decades
Have students research salaries in different decades. If these websites do not provide the information students need have them Google search a few different specific careers in different decades and get good information.
- Prices and Wages by Decade: Introduction
- The relative weakness in earnings of production workers in manufacturing, 1990–2018: Monthly Labor Review
Host a Career Day
In this blog post – How to Host a Career Day at Your School – I explain how you can host an in-person or virtual Career Day at your school or just with your students. This was one of my favourite events that I worked on at my previous school.
The world of careers can be overwhelming and stressful for students, as well as adults. However, if we can provide students with the proper tools such as middle school career exploration lessons, and teach them how to explore, it can turn into an exciting experience instead of a stressful one.