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Career Readiness Programs

Written by Dr. Isabel Warner
Published on April 1, 2024
Research Highlights

Career readiness programs prepare students for the workforce most effectively when they expose and connect students to a wide variety of career paths,  and include soft skills.

MO has more than 500 local education agencies that deliver career readiness curricula.

The IN program has completed its first year of working to iteratively improve 5 identified areas of career readiness.

High-quality career readiness programs prepare students for the workforce.

Career readiness programs aim to address current workforce demands for employees who can fill middle- and high-skill jobs that require a combination of technical and academic skills (Carnevale, et al., 2010). These programs are generally evaluated by the extent to which participants achieve their higher education and career goals (Detgen, 2021). Key components of a successful career readiness program include (Warren et al., 2018):

  • Exposing participants to a variety of careers
  • Strengthening soft skills
  • Clarifying practical steps to prepare for college and careers
  • Providing support for interpersonal relationships
  • Integrating education with career planning and preparation

Programs that connect schools to college and career pathways lead to improved attendance, higher course pass rates, and a sense of belonging in school (Rumberger et al., 2017). Participating in high-quality internships promotes student engagement in learning and career exploration (Miller et al., 2011; Gamboa et al., 2013). However, student outcomes depend on the quality of these programs (Alfed et al., 2013).

Soft skills have been identified as particularly critical for success, by both students and employers who. Important soft skills include (Lipman et al., 2015):

  • Communication skills
  • Higher order thinking skills
  • Self-awareness and self-management
  • Social skills

MO career readiness curricula are delivered through a variety of programs.

Currently, MO requires school districts to identify students who are (RSMo 167.905). Proposed changes in HB 2794 would require students in 8th grade to complete a career assessment, meet with a counselor, and establish an individual career and academic plan (ICAP) (HB 2794, 2024). In addition, students will receive career literacy education for a mandated period each week, starting with 30 minutes per week in kindergarten and increasing to two hours per week from middle school onward.

Additionally, the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education also houses a College and Career Readiness Office, which provides curriculum services, career education, and school counseling (DESE, 2024). Schools also have access to MO Connections, a “comprehensive, online, career development and planning program,” that is funded by DESE and free for all MO citizens.

In addition, 9 regional career advisors work with school districts, career centers, military, and postsecondary institutions to develop Individual Career and Academic Plans (ICAPs) and to develop career pathway programs and processes (DESE, 2024, Figure 1). These advisors work with the DESE School Counseling section and DESE Career and Technical Education (CTE). MO has a Comprehensive School Counseling Program that works with schools to develop and implement curriculum, individual student planning, responsive services, and systems support.

Indiana’s career readiness program is an iterative process to improve 5 key areas.

uses the Graduates Prepared to Succeed (GPS) program, which “empowers educators by providing a variety of essential data points to support continuous improvement of student learning.” A task force identified 5 characteristics critical for success after high school (IN DoE, 2024, IN DoE, 2023):

  • (proficiency in state standards)
  • Career and postsecondary readiness (credentials and experience)
  • Communication and collaboration
  • Work ethic
  • Civic, financial, and digital literacy.

The program works from Pre-K through high school, first laying the foundation for language and literacy skills, followed by math, and finally exploring partnerships and career planning in grades 9-12. These high school programs include opportunities for students to gain college credit, or other transferable credentials, and “high-quality, work-based learning experiences.” The 2023 IN graduating class was allowed to individualize their graduation requirements to align with future goals, and 86% of students completed these requirements.

Figure 1. Career Advisor Districts in MO. The districts covered by regional Career Advisors, who work with school districts, career centers, military, and post-secondary institutions to assist MO students in obtaining skills and experiences to achieve their career goals. Map obtained from DESE, 2024.



Alfred, C., et al. (2013). Work Based Learning Opportunities for High School Students. National Research Center for Career and Technical Education. https://eric.ed.gov/?id=ED574519

Carnevale, et al. (2010). Help Wanted: Projecting Jobs and Education Requirements Through 2018. Georgetown University Center on Education and the Workforce. https://cew.georgetown.edu/cew-reports/help-wanted/

Department of Elementary and Secondary Education (DESE). (2024). College and Career Readiness. https://dese.mo.gov/college-career-readiness

Department of Elementary and Secondary Education (DESE). (2024). School Counseling: Career Advisors. https://dese.mo.gov/college-career-readiness/school-counseling

Department of Elementary and Secondary Education (DESE). (2024). School Counseling: Missouri Connections. https://dese.mo.gov/college-career-readiness/school-counseling

Department of Higher Education and Workforce Development (DHEWD). (2020). Annual Report on the Condition of College and Career Readiness. https://dhewd.mo.gov/documents/ReportontheConditionofCollegeandCareerReadiness2019-20.pdf

Detgen, A., et al. (2021). Efficacy of a College and Career Readiness Program: Bridge to Employment. The Career Development Quarterly. 69(3): 231-247. https://doi.org/10.1002/cdq.12270

Gamboa, V., et al., (2013). Internship quality predicts career exploration of high school students. Journal of Vocational Behavior. 83(1): 78-87. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.jvb.2013.02.009

House Bill 2794. Modifies provisions governing postsecondary plans of elementary and secondary students. https://house.mo.gov/Bill.aspx?bill=HB2794&year=2024&code=R

Indiana Department of Education (IN DoE). (2024). Indiana Graduates Prepared to Succeed (Indiana GPS). https://www.in.gov/doe/home/indiana-graduates-prepared-to-succeed-indiana-gps/

Indiana Department of Education (IN DoE). (2023). Indiana Graduates Prepared To Succeed: Indicators and Methods of Calculation. https://www.in.gov/doe/files/gps-indicators-and-businessrules-final.pdf

Lippman, L.H., et al. (2015). Workforce connections: key ‘soft skills’ that foster youth workforce success: toward a consensus across fields. Child Trends. https://www.voced.edu.au/content/ngv:68660

Metlife. (2011). The MetLife Survey of The American Teacher: Preparing Students for College and Careers. https://files.eric.ed.gov/fulltext/ED519278.pdf

Miller, R., et al. (2011). The effects of high impact learning experiences on student engagement. Procedia: Social and Behavioral Sciences. 15: 53-59. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.sbspro.2011.03.050

Nair, P.K. and Mehrnaz Fahimirad. (2019). A Qualitative Research Study on the Importance of Life Skills on Undergraduate Students’ Personal and Social Competencies. International Journal of Higher Education. 8(5). https://doi.org/10.5430/ijhe.v8n5p71

Robles, M.M. (2012). Executive Perceptions of the Top 10 Soft Skills Needed in Today’s Workplace. Business and Professional Communication Quarterly. 75(4). https://doi.org/10.1177/1080569912460400

RSMo 167.905. At-risk students to be identified, district policy required. https://revisor.mo.gov/main/OneSection.aspx?section=167.905

Rumberger, R.W., et al. (2017). Preventing Dropout in Secondary Schools. National Center for Education Evaluation and Regional Assistance: Institute of Education Science. U.S. Department of Education. NCEE 2017-4028. https://ies.ed.gov/ncee/wwc/Docs/PracticeGuide/wwc_dropout_092617.pdf

Warren, C. et al., (2018). College and Career Readiness: A Guide for Navigators. FHI 360. Developed for the North Dakota Succeed 2020 Education and Workforce Initiative. https://sabes.org/sites/default/files/resources/ccr-navigator-guide-2018.pdf

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