How to Prepare Your High School Students for a Career

Published: Sept. 28, 2017, 1:15 p.m.

In our changing economy, college entrance isn’t the only path to a successful career. However, high school students must be prepared to enter the workforce lest they flounder in minimum wage jobs. Additionally, a university education doesn’t guarantee career success. Graduates need various skills which they aren’t likely to learn in lecture halls.

Most parents and teachers focus on raising test scores to help high school students enter college. However, even those students who pursue higher education directly after graduation may need to work, and all graduates will eventually be initiated into the job market. If helping your student realize a lucrative career is important to you, you may wonder what else you need to consider.

There are avenues you can pursue to ready your high school student for their future career. Whether they embark on a college education or enter the workforce immediately, the preparation you have initiated will help them realize success.

Future Ready Students

What are future ready students and what is the significance of future readiness? The careers of the future require more than a degree to compete in the global economy. Future readiness is a term used to describe students who are adequately prepared to enter the workforce. There are multiple factors which contribute to your student's future readiness.

A helpful resource in determining your child’s future readiness is theCollege and Career Readiness and Success Organizer. This graphic representation of the many factors to future success can help parents and students target weaknesses and create plans to address them. While this infographic has been set up to help schools comply with theEvery Student Succeeds Act; it is invaluable to anyone unsure of what career readiness really means.

Every student is an individual, with their own goals and talents. However, here are some key areas you can focus on to help your high school student prepare for the workforce.

Tech Savvy Teens

Most high school students are adept at playing video games, tweeting their thoughts and interacting with the global world through technology. While past generations may have discouraged these skills, there are a multitude of future careers for which technologically savvy students can head.

In fact, more than 7.3 million people were employed in tech jobs in 2016, a growth of 3% from 2015. According to the 2016 “Future of Jobs Report,” many middle management and administrative jobs will disappear by 2020. The report predicts data analysts will be in high demand as changes in the workforce cement. The future of marketing

also depends on developments in technology and the needs of global consumers.

Social media coordinators, video game programmers, website optimizers and digital assistants are all careers which require tech-savvy individuals. In a growing tech industry, these are also examples of jobs likely to be in demand over the next few years. However, knowing how to update their Facebook status won't put your student ahead of the competition.

According to a 2014 report, profound technological foundations need to be built and expanded to translate casual technical knowledge into working knowledge.

Working knowledge in technology is increasingly valuable as presented by the Cyberstates 2017 report. The report informs us that while 6.9 million people work in the tech industry, another 7.3 million individuals are employed in tech positions supporting other industries. The resulting 14.2 million workers are somehow involved in technology for their primary source of income. It stands to reason that understanding the tech industry and its components is valuable across the job market.

Excerpt from CompTIA Cyberstates 2017 report.

The future ready student must understand technology, be digitally literate and practice good digital citizenship. Here are some steps to developing your teen’s technological skills with possible career paths in mind.

  • Encourage your student to develop existing tech skills. Enrollment in free online courses via Coursera or participation in school tech projects are great ways to expand your student’s skills.
  • Engage your teen in understanding how to evaluate the authenticity of digital information, use technology to research and communicate, and collaborate with others. While some teens may already be digitally literate, many use social media irresponsibly or cannot discern genuine resources from false facts.
  • Ensure your teen practices good digital citizenship. Key components include safe browsing, password security, and responsible sharing. Make sure your high school student is aware of how their online interactions can affect future job prospects.

Adaptable Workers

Employees who have multiple skill sets and continue to develop themselves professionally are in high demand. Encourage your high school student to pursue lifelong learning on their chosen path. The idea that graduation or earning a degree is the end of education is no longer relevant. Many employers actively search for individuals who can adapt to changing economic needs and are open to continual learning.

Additionally, those employees who demonstrate an ability to adapt to work environment changes are likely to succeed over others. A 2013 report cited capacity to work in a team, fluid intelligence, problem-solving and innovation as influential factors to success in the 21st-century workplace.

Source: November 2013 ETS Research Report, 21st Century Workforce Competencies

Teamwork is critical in many workplaces. Sports, clubs and even gaming teams can demonstrate the importance of teamwork. Employees are also called upon to work autonomously in many roles. Teaching your high school student to be responsible, set their deadlines and be accountable is imperative to future success. Here are a few ways to develop your high school student's adaptability.

  • Encourage your teen to volunteer or work part-time during summer or holiday breaks.
  • Enroll your student in skill-based courses online or in person. Develop a diverse portfolio of skills which will make them more desirable to employers.
  • Encourage team sports, clubs, etc.
  • Require accountability from your teen. Set savings goals for teens with jobs. Follow up with study and homework assignments to show your teen the value of planning. Reward positive behavior and responsibility from your high schooler.

Emotional Stability

When we mention emotional stability for the future ready student, there are a few ways to measure this. However, it’s important to note that employers want dependable workers who can perform under pressure when necessary.

Experiences gained through volunteer work, part-time jobs and team activities are valuable in creating emotional stability. Talking to your teen about their goals and plans realistically is another important step for parents. Parents who encourage unrealistic aims and expectations are only setting teens up for failure.

The World Economic Forum lists emotional intelligence sixth in their list of Top 10 Skills for workers in 2020. That's a significant change from 2015 when emotional intelligence didn't make the list. This change shows how employers are adapting their hiring models and how job seekers must evolve to compete.

Commitment to Lifelong Learning

Lifelong learning for career development is nothing new. In fact, a 1981 report by the National Institute of Education touted the importance of lifelong development to career success. However, the report and subsequent employer investment hinged significantly on experiential learning. In the workplace of today, corporate seminars and classes aren't enough for the ambitious worker.

According to the National Center for Educational Statistics, 27% of adults surveyed reported holding a non-degree credential. These credentials included postsecondary certificates, certifications, and licenses. The report shows a correlation between continuing education and earnings, employment and advancement in a career.

For example, the earnings of those surveyed directly increased along with the percentage of individuals holding non-degree credentials. Only 19%, of those surveyed to have earned less than $20,000 from 2015 to 2016, held a non-degree credential. Meanwhile, 31% of individuals who made $20,000 to $50,000 in that same period, held a non-degree credential. And, 41% who earned more than $50,000, during that time frame, held at least one non-degree credential.

Excerpt from Adult Training and Education: Results from the National Household Education Surveys Program of 2016

Experts agree that the job market is changing. Many common positions may cease to exist in 20 years. A May 2017 NY Times article posited that truck and cab drivers, even accountants would soon be obsolete. Instilling the value of extended learning, outside a classroom, in your high school student can help them achieve future goals.

  • Engage in continued education with your high school student. Take online courses through Coursera or Academic Earth.
  • Encourage your high school student to learn new skills or ideas through open learning opportunities. Courses are available through the The Open University.
  • Incorporate weekly Ted Talks into your teen's schedule. This informal resource can help them present themselves better to future employers.
  • Linguistic development is a tremendous asset for businesses, have your teen practice or learn a new language with Duolingo.
  • Encourage your high school student to learn coding and other web development skills. Utilize resources like Codecademy, Treehouse, and The Code Player.

Career Preparation

Being ready to compete in the fast-paced job market of tomorrow will take more than extra courses, informational videos, and a stable personality. Everything your teen has done before graduation can be used to make them more attractive to employers. High school students should have some form of work experience before graduation. Volunteer work, internships and part-time jobs all count as valuable experience.

Although work in STEM continues to advance, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, some of the

fastest growing occupations from 2014 to 2024 will require little or no college education.

Wind turbine technicians , for example, are expected to increase by 108% during the projected timeframe. Other occupations like occupational therapy assistants and interpreters are expected to increase by 29 to 40% from 2014 to 2024.

A report released in April of 2017 by the Bureau of Labor Statistics noted only 69.7% of 2016 high school graduates enrolled in college. That leaves 31.3% of students looking for work. However, only 72.3% of youth not enrolled in college were engaged in the workforce. This disparity is likely due to teens being unprepared for workforce competition.

Interestingly, 72.9% of high school graduates held jobs in 2016. While the figures jumped to 82.5% among youth with some college or associate's education. Meanwhile, the greatest employment gap remains among individuals without a high school diploma, with only 52.9% engaged in the workforce. To improve these numbers, teens and young adults need to embrace alternative education and other development opportunities.

Volunteer Positions

There are a multitude of volunteer opportunities for the teen looking to add to their portfolio. However, focusing on those experiences which represent the right traits and point towards a future career is a smart move.

For teens who want to branch into the animal industry, there are plenty of opportunities which will demonstrate a love for animals. High school students can walk dogs for the local shelter, walk and feed dogs for senior citizens living alone or make signs for lost dogs through local networks.

High schoolers who want to branch into customer service will find they are better served by work which helps people directly. Suggest your teen organize a toy or food drive, hold a car wash, bake sale or rummage sale and donate the money to charity, or volunteer at a homeless or women’s shelter.

Additionally, teens pursuing employment in a specialized field like technology or accounting can volunteer their services to help the elderly or any non-profit organization. Using their skills to assist a non-profit will prove competence and dedication.


Similarly, some companies may offer internships where your student can gain experience without pay. Often, narrowing down the industries your teen would like to target will help the process. Have your teen find companies which operate in their preferred sector. Then, have them apply to work as an intern.

Although they will likely spend time getting coffee and running errands, they will gain an understanding of how the industry works and hopefully references for future applications.

Work Experience

Never underestimate the value of actual work experience for young adults pursuing careers. Regardless of the industry or position, teens can parlay a good work ethic into valuable references or recommendations. In 2016, retail salespersons, cashiers and food workers still top U.S. occupations in sheer numbers. Consequently, gaining some work experience is a practical step for high school students before entering professional careers.

For the self-starting high school student, running their own business is a huge advantage for future employment. Something as simple as mowing lawns or selling items on eBay for community members can teach your teen about business and gain them professional references.

For high school students who want to experience life before college or a career, consider encouraging them to earn a TEFL certificate and teach English abroad. This path counts as work experience (potentially, also as volunteering) and adds valuable life experience with travel and cultural awareness. Additionally, working while traveling is much more beneficial to your teen’s future career than backpacking aimlessly.


Helping your high school student prepare for a career will require at least some focus on the application and interview process. Remember, even the most qualified individual must prove their worth before getting the job.

Resume Building

Creating a resume or CV is a task which many young adults underestimate. However, the truth is their resume is your teen’s foot in the door. A poorly written or formatted resume will be pushed aside, regardless of qualifications. For that reason, teaching high school students how to create the right sales pitch for each job is important.

Have your high school graduate write multiple resumes or CVs for different job types and review them against the guidelines on WikiHow. Pay particular attention to format and wording when critiquing your teen's resume. Also, practice writing cover letters and discuss appropriate references.


If you have built a foundation of emotional stability, confidence should be inborn for your teen. However, there are some key steps which will project confidence to prospective employers. Have your teens practice the following guidelines for more successful job searches.

  • Dress for the job you want. Remind your high school student that their appearance does make a difference to employers. If the job requires a suit and tie, they should present themselves dressed accordingly. The same can be said for overdressing, as it shows a lack of knowledge about the position.
  • Make eye contact. Employers judge interviewees on their first impressions. Making eye contact, shaking hands and smiling are all good practices.
  • Talk positively. Young adults should speak positively about their experiences, competencies, and goals.
  • Make positive statements. Teens must communicate clearly about what they want and what they are worth. Help them practice assertive self-assessment. I.e., "I am always on time," or " I am an expert in Java programming."

Digital Awareness

In the information age, everything you post online can be an asset or liability. Make sure your high school student understands that employers may search their social media profiles for clues to their real personality. Teens should know how to set privacy rules for their online accounts and understand how information can be connected to them online.

Practical Preparedness

While you may not employ all of these strategies and tips to prepare your high school student for a career, every teen should have a plan. Graduates entering college should be aware of the markets they will attempt to gain employment in and work towards employability while in school. Those teens entering the workforce without a college education should have a solid outline for finding a stable career.

Regardless of plans, each high school student should develop a career plan which includes the following five steps.

  1. Decide on a career path. Everyone has preferences for the industry in which they'd like to work. Knowing what they want to do (even for now) will help teens achieve future goals.
  2. Understand career expectations. Being realistic in goals is critical to confidence and achievement. Help your high school student research what qualifications their preferred career will require.
  3. Create actionable steps. Once your teen knows the requirements they will need for success, help them create a path. Enrollment in online courses, fine-tuning recreational skills, and choosing continued education resources will help teens solidify their usefulness to employers.
  4. Advertise their assets. Help your high school student create a professional resume and appearance for job hunting. Encourage them to begin looking before graduation and search on a schedule.
  5. Allow for time. Encourage your student to gain work or volunteer experience while searching for the right career opportunity. Don’t let them be discouraged by the slow process of finding the right job.

Involve Your Teen

The evolving job market can be intimidating to new high school graduates, but that doesn't mean they can't be prepared. Helping your teen understand the core competencies needed for continued success in the 21st-century workplace is the first step in preparation. Your high school student should be an active partner in achieving their future goals.

Consequently, discussing the ways your high school student can prepare for a career is the first step in any plan. Communicate the importance of making decisions and working towards their goals. Help your high schooler map out their future; don't depend on covert steering to get them on track. Teenagers must play an active role in their futures, or they won't be inclined to continue work on the foundation you've laid with them.

For parents and teachers who want to prepare high school students for career success, it may be easy to take the reins. However, remember your high schooler will soon be a young adult steering themselves through life. Share this article with them and discuss their goals, skills, and options. Be realistic about plans and encourage them to find the path which works for them.


College and Career Readiness and Success Organizer Writing Student Resumes Coursera Academic Earth The Open University TED Talks Duolingo Code Academy Treehouse The Code Player Bureau of Labor Statistics; Career Planning for High Schoolers International TEFL Academy Radford University Career Center; Interviewing WikiHow, 7 Ways to Make a Resume