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For many millennials a disappointing reality is sinking in — that a college degree does not guarantee a career or the skills needed to advance in the 21st century economy. The good news is there's a California program that's bringing more focus to getting ready for a career.
The California Community Colleges have identified Get Focused…Stay Focused as a best practice for student success through early career exploration. Currently, 117,000 students in California are involved with the program and building brighter futures.
At the Get Focused, Stay Focused conference held at Santa Barbara Community College last month, I came to a deep understanding of the value of this program to students, our communities, and the California economy.
As someone who recently completed this pathway, I can personally advocate for the potential of programs like this not only to make a difference for all students but also be an effective resource for closing California’s skills gap. Get Focused…Stay Focused is a true student-centered program focused on building skills and a career, working to align student interests with the needs and occupations of the current and future economies.
What else makes this program different? Let’s explore.
At the conference, Dr. Kevin Fleming, Dean of Instruction at Norco College, made the point that too many millennials are underemployed and graduate with an insufficient degree—one that is irrelevant to market demand or lacks the specific skills employers require.
The first message of Get Focused…Stay Focused—simple but pivotal—is to switch the way in which students approach their future. The program advocates for a path that asks students to first identify a career path, then discover a relevant major, and lastly, select a college based on the first two. Placing value in career and life readiness, in addition to college preparation, will change the outcome for students throughout the state.
Just a little bit about me:
In high school, I participated in every A.P. class and was a high-achieving student by most standards, graduating with honors in English and French. Borrowing from Get Focused…Stay Focused, co-founder Dr. Lauren Wintermeyer, I am a true multipotentialite—someone without “one true calling” but with many varied interests and creative pursuits. Having had very little career exploration early on, I felt aimless throughout college, becoming more uncertain as graduation closed in.
I have always asked the important questions. What jobs can I get with a Bachelor of Arts in Environmental Sustainability? What skills do I need? Where should I look for entry-level employment opportunities post-graduation? The list goes on. Unfortunately, there was no obvious resource available to me to obtain solid answers to those questions.
From community college to graduate school, I met with school counselors three times in seven years. One for every new college I attended. In each meeting, the message I received was the same. I would need to retake a class or classes that did not transfer from the previous college. There was no discussion about career opportunities, the importance of gaining related work experience, or the abilities I would need to succeed in my future job.
Get Focused…Stay Focused is an important part of “projects in-common,” initiatives identified by the California Community College Chancellor’s Office as five projects that have been tested and proven effective at addressing the recommendations for the Strong Workforce Program, the College's $200 million program to better connect training programs with the needs of regional employers.
During the conference, I had the opportunity to engage in a demo of the 10-year plan, which is constructed by students using guidance from the Get Focused…Stay Focused program. Not only is the curriculum built to steer students through the questions (and many more) I listed above, but it also is flexible, fun, interactive, and substantive.
The program teaches students how to plan for a vacation and what kind of annual income they will need to earn in order to afford that Ferrari they see in their future! Financial literacy is too often left out of the educational process and pivotal to effectively prepare students for success in life after K-12.
Get Focused…Stay Focused will (and has) increase student success, pathway awareness, working relationships between K-12 and community colleges, and better aligns the skills of college graduates with the needs of the workforce. Programs like this ensure students have a sufficient understanding of the diversity of career opportunities available to them, the soft skills necessary to get a job and advance with experience, and enough financial savvy to stay out of serious debt and maintain a good quality of life.
The “projects in-common” programs have already been tested and proven effective, with continual opportunities to evaluate and accumulate data—both qualitative and quantitative—to create greater buy-in and support in every region.
Please do not hesitate to reach out to learn more about my experience at the Get Focused…Stay Focused conference or what tools I consider pivotal to true student success. If done right, effective programs like this can change the challenging reality millennials currently face and invest in the next generation of workers looking to achieve the American Dream.
Leah Grassini Moehle is a Research Analyst at California Forward