Bringing Careers into the Curriculum


Lucy Sattler is the CEO at Study Work Grow and is passionate about providing careers advisors with a quality source of information. She is a Professional Member of CDAA and has nearly finished her Masters of Education Studies, Guidance, Counselling and Careers. This article is based on her recent 'Bringing Careers into the Curriculum' report.

Education exists (in my opinion, anyway) to prepare young people for their adult lives. The curriculum is designed to ensure students have the skills and knowledge they need to thrive in society, equipped with the power to choose their own destiny. But young people may lack the skills to connect their learning with their future lives, which is understandable, and this means they rely on their educators to show them the purpose of their education. 

Linking learning with life helps students understand how the content they cover in the classroom is relevant for their future lives. When they can see the point of what they’re learning, they ‘switch on’ – engagement goes up because they value what they are learning and understand how it will benefit them in the future.

Teachers as Career Influencers

Teachers play a pivotal role as career influencers, which is why it is so important for them to have the skills and knowledge they need to be able to connect the content they teach with potential future career paths; students need this knowledge and cannot find it for themselves. But it takes specific skills to be able to understand how the curriculum relates to today’s dynamic and complex labour market, and we need to support teachers in this role

It's important to understand that when we say that teachers are ‘Career Influencers’, we don’t mean they are posting on TikTok about jobs, or that they are having regular one-on-one meetings about pathways with their students. Teachers influence their students in micro-conversations, where they talk about their own career pathway, give their opinion about a job, or bring their ideas and experiences to the conversation, and these conversations can be incredibly powerful. 

Micro-conversations are:

  • Short – usually less than 5 minutes from start to finish, but they can be as short as one or two words, or even just a raised eyebrow
  • Unplanned – they take place in and around other content and conversations
  • Subconscious – teacher may not realise they are technically talking about careers
  • Powerful – messages may resonate for some time after the conversation

Teachers may not even realise that they are influencing their students in this way because the conversations are so subtle and intertwined with everything else that goes on inside the classroom, but this is where Professional Development can come in to help raise confidence levels and equip teachers with accurate and localised labour market information.

Bringing Careers into the Curriculum

With all of the above in mind, we’re going to look at four key recommendations for linking careers with classroom content:

1. Learning should be stage appropriate

As children develop, they go through a process of building their skills and creating a vocational identity, which outlines who they are, and who they’d like to become. Career related learning should respect the child’s individual development stage and be tailored to their needs.

Early on, children aren’t yet able to use hypothetical thinking to explore possible futures, but they are able to explore and learn about future pathways. For that reason, interventions in primary school and early childhood should focus on introducing children to a wide range of careers and give them the opportunity to ‘go deep’ and learn about the tasks, skills, and outcomes those jobs require (not just which uniform they wear). By secondary school, students are able to systematically explore their options and connect their strengths and interests to pathways. 

2. Work with industry and employers

When students (and their teachers) have the opportunity to engage with industry they expand their thinking, and any career intervention should incorporate real-world career information. Aim to invite industry groups and employers which represent the largest employers in your local area, as these will be the future employers of the majority of your students, and this may mean inviting groups that represent things like aged care and retail as well as the more ‘exciting’ or visible career pathways.

3. Create Career Leadership within your school

Assigning a designated Career Leader, whether that person is a Head of Pathways, VET Coordinator, Guidance Counsellor, or Careers Advisor, makes it clear who is responsible for championing your career education program. Other teaching staff and students will know who to refer to as the subject matter expert, and this person can bring their knowledge of career development and education to your specific school context.

4. Take a school-wide approach

Building a ‘career mindset’ within your school gives young people (and their parents) space to explore their options and prepare for their life after school is complete. Incorporating regular career education units into a homegroup or pastoral care session allows student to come to the discussion on their own terms, so that when they are ready, they can ask questions, show interest, and engage with the process.

Where to from here

My 14 year old is the King of ‘Why’. He wants to know why he is being asked to do something, and what he will get out of it, and while this means I have to get creative sometimes, I also know that he is driven to understand the point. Not all young people are like this, but many are, and the statistics show that well over half of even academically high-achieving students are disengaged by middle school. Teachers who can show students the point of their education shift from a best-case scenario of compliance to deep engagement, which means it’s worth taking the time to connect curriculum content with the real-world.

The ‘Bringing Careers into the Curriculum’ Report is available here, and if you’d like any more information about Study Work Grow or have any questions about incorporating career learning within the curriculum please contact Lucy Sattler at [email protected].