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Work and Apprenticeships for Powering Your Career

Schools for Children created Different Choices 2021, a virtual college & career transition fair specifically for students with IEPs, 504s and/or mental health challenges. The multi-day event at the end of October featured the panel presentation Work and Apprenticeships for Powering Your Career, facilitated by Seaport Academy Director Alex Tsonas.


The webinar offered advice for students planning to work while attending college or who are considering pursuing apprenticeships and career paths straight out of high school. The panelists represented a cross-section of experts from career preparation and apprenticeship programs to voc-tech, internship and certificate studies within postsecondary educational settings. 


Webinar participants not only learned about accredited vocational and technical training programs, part-time learning and certifications, and apprenticeship, they received practical tips and advice on ways to access these sometimes hard to find opportunities. Panelists discussed how these types of programs can provide interested students with opportunities to  develop valuable skills, explore careers, learn a trade, and even get paid while doing it. And these opportunities are available in many different sectors of the economy ‒ from the arts to construction, environmental work, healthcare, maritime work, the nonprofit sector and more.


Getting Ready

Each panelist emphasized the issue of readiness for the transition from home and high school to careers and career-specific education. Echoing the advice of the youth panelists from In Our Own Voices, the NAMI-Massachusetts-sponsored Different Choices presentation, the career preparation experts panelists stressed that soon-to-be graduates should focus on what they want most from their next step following high school.


  • Do you want to be close to home?
  • How much and what kind of support system will you need to be successful?
  • In what subjects did you excel in high school and which were the most challenging?


Panelists also emphasized that attending college after and during a career path is also an option. Additionally, they shared that college is not for everyone and training programs can lead to a fulfilling career and life.


The career prep experts shared that they had had various jobs, educational experiences and even multiple career paths prior to their current roles, and that they only had to stay open to their possibilities in order to obtain and fulfill their new roles. For example, Ziven Drake with the North Atlantic States Carpenters Training Fund shared her own odyssey from college to the military to her current management position in apprentice recruitment and retention. She stressed that remaining open and flexible is the key to career success.


All of our experts warned students against believing that they had to decide before graduating from high school what they “wanted to be” for the rest of their life. The vagaries of the job market no longer make this a viable option anyway. Forrester Research predicts that today’s youngest workers will have 12 to 15 jobs in their lifetime! The panelists agreed that it is more important for students to build skills and remain flexible.


Webinar participants were advised to take part-time work while still in high school, work summer jobs and volunteer gigs, and try for pre-apprenticeships to try out a few positions and figure out where they perform the best. Also, it’s just as important for students to figure out what they don’t like to do as it is for them to decide what they like. The overall view of our transition experts? All experiences are valuable in helping students decide what the next step will be.


Try It Now

Kasey Johnson of Building Futures, who oversees pre-apprenticeship programs across the trades and also for digital and tech careers, said that pre-apprenticeship programs are a good first learning experience for students considering a career right out of high school. Dr. Suzanne Jones, CUNY LEADS job developer at Queensborough Community College, said many of the students she works are pursuing a degree while they work in a related field, “So that the two are not exclusive.” 


Other panelists mentioned programs where students can get paid as part of their training, such as:


  • Certification or degree programs
  • CTE programs, which teach highly sought after industry skills (e.g., media arts) that pay students while still in high school
  • College-level certificates that give insight into a career path or can help add new skills to a chosen career path


The bottom line advice from this presentation? No matter what path a student decides to take, be informed, be prepared and, most of all, find joy in the journey.  

Watch video from this Different Choices presentation.

Check out the Different Choices resource directory.