Real World Occupational Exploration

A key element of the career planning process is occupational explorationThis process or exploration can awaken new aspirations, as people learn about occupations they never considered before. The process involves learning about the types of jobs and careers available, average wage and salary, the projected growth or decline of openings in the field, and the skills, training, and education required to enter and advance.  The process can be empowering as students learn critical information to guide their career choices, sparking new possibilities. In addition, this type of exploration provides students with the opportunity to develop valuable research, interview, Internet, and data interpretation skills applied to real-life questions and decisions.

While career exploration websites provide a wealth of initial information about a broad array of occupations and careers, they can’t replace (and are best when supplemented with) real-life encounters with people in those types of jobs and workplaces. In fact, the National Career Development Association recommends that career seekers speak to at least two people in any occupation or industry they are seriously considering and informational interviews are an effective way to accomplish this.

Informational Interviews

Informational Interviews can help students gain interview skills and confidence in one-on-one meetings with career professionals. An informational interview can be very empowering for students because the students are the ones asking the questions, in contrast to a job interview where the job applicant is under the spotlight. Integrating Career Awareness into the ABE and ESOL Classroom (ICA) contains a lesson on informational interviewing and an interview template [PDF].

Stephanie Sommers has adapted this for her intermediate/high intermediate ESOL class. In her lesson, Stephanie surveys students’ interests and invites community members to her classroom to be interviewed by a group of students. She has students work in small groups to prepare interview questions and use graphic organizers such as KWL and T charts, enabling students to practice learning strategies in the process.  In addition to helping students learn more about the variety of careers available in their region, the lesson gives them the opportunity to work in small groups, practice question formation, build confidence with authentic listening and speaking, take notes, and organize information gathered.

Download: Info Interview Lesson Plan [Word], Info Interview Questions [Word], Info Interview T Chart [Word], KWL Chart [Word]

Elia Dreyfuss has this to say about the benefits of informational interviews for pre-college students:

Visiting Job Sites

Job-site visits or job shadowing are other ways that students can gain real-world exposure to types of jobs by spending a few hours at a worksite. Mina Mathews describes how a visit to a hospital, which she refers to as “a career pit stop,” enabled students to learn a bit about many allied health care professional in a single visit:

Practicing Workplace Vocabulary

Ellie Liggett teaches beginner level ESOL students in Texas.  She contributed an activity that helps students begin to gain fluency with words and phrases that they use in their own jobs. While they don’t directly interview each other, the students share information about their own jobs as they generate words and phrases they use there and develop skits to practice them. In addition to learning and practicing new English words and phrases, they also have an opportunity to broaden their understanding of the world of work through this peer exchange.

Download: Workplace Vocabulary Tool [Word]

About Role Models and Self-Efficacy

Self-efficacy refers to the level of confidence a person feels in their ability to perform a specific task.  A growing body of research shows that there is a positive, significant relationship between students’ self-efficacy beliefs and their persistence and academic performance. So self-efficacy is a meaningful framework for thinking about how we improve learner persistence and points towards strategies educators can use to help students make progress towards their goals. Students with more self-efficacy are more willing to work harder and persist in the face of adversity and reach their goals.  People with low self-efficacy toward a task are more likely to avoid it.

Research points to four key sources of self-efficacy, one of which is through vicarious experiences. In this case, people gain greater confidence in their own abilities through observing the achievements of their peers and learning about the efforts they made and obstacles they overcame on the way. Connecting to role models through informational interviews and job-site visits can be considered a way of gaining these types of vicarious experiences. To the extent that you can help students connect to career professional who come from similar age, gender, racial, ethnic, or socio-economic backgrounds furthers the potential impact of the encounter.

For pedagogical strategies, see this article.

Stephanie Sommers, ELL Instructor
Minneapolis Adult Basic Education
Minneapolis, MN

Elia Dreyfuss, Coordinator of Transition to College and Careers
Holyoke Community College
Holyoke, MA

Mina Matthews, Advisor
Lewiston Adult Education
Lewiston, ME

Ellie Liggett, ESOL Instructor
Austin Community College
Austin, TX