By ET Magazine Staff Reports

A recent YouScience survey found 83 percent of today’s learners can’t connect the skills they have and learn in school to future employment. Discovery Education’s Career Connect represents a new model in education in which career awareness and exposure start as a first stitch in the fabric of learning. Career Connect is a digital platform designed to bridge the gap between aspiring professionals and representatives in different industries. The platform facilitates direct communication, allowing students to connect with industry experts and gain insights into diverse career opportunities.

Discovery Education has served as a conduit between K-12 and Industry for over 20 years. While doing so, the company has seen the impact that introducing students to possible careers and industry representatives can have on young lives. From basics like sourcing and scheduling time between classrooms and industry volunteers to developing career-driven resources, Discovery Education has been manually and informally facilitating these types of “career connections” for years, helping to amplify skilled-based volunteering experiences while shaping students’ awareness of potential career pathways in the process.

In facilitating these bespoke classroom connections, Discovery Education saw their transformational power and wanted to bring career awareness to more students. Their new platform, Career Connect, widens access to possible career pathways and brings work-world connections to students at an entirely new scale.

The Vision

Discovery’s vision is a big one. Career and Technical Education (CTE) for students is a critical step in connecting students to careers, but Career Connect takes it much further than traditional CTE. Career Connect allows educators to weave potential career pathways into all aspects of learning, so students can see the real-world applications of what they are being taught. Typically, students only learn about careers through CTE courses and only meet with professionals at special events such as career days or fairs.

In contrast, Discovery Education is setting out to make industry connections a seamless part of a student’s journey throughout their time in school. 20 years ago, Discovery Education introduced many educators and students to streaming media. They believe Career Connect will have an equally big impact today. Just as digital learning experiences are commonplace today, Career Connect has the potential to become an integral part of the learning experience, on par with a video or an immersive lab.

Solving challenges for industry

Role Models: There is a tremendous chasm between what students learn and what employers need. CTE is not a core subject and the skills learned are not standardized across states. A new study by Amazon and Gallup reveals that young adults who looked up to a career-oriented role model when they were in middle or high school are more likely to be satisfied with their careers and finances. They are also more likely than those without role models to say their careers are fulfilling and that they are established as professionals. Yet role model access is inconsistent. Only 28 percent of individuals from low-income families report having a role model compared to higher-income students at 84 percent. Career Connect provides all students with the benefits of a role model.

According to Katie Lisowski, Senior Director of Career Connect at Discovery Education, “Students now have the opportunity to connect with real professionals in a variety of careers and industries that they maybe never would have had the chance to learn about. All employee volunteers on Career Connect are now only a few clicks away for classrooms, no matter their location. The platform empowers engagement across 20 different languages, ensuring educators can connect their classroom with industry volunteers to whom they can relate. Students now have the power to see it and then be it.”

Only 28 percent of individuals from low-income families report having a role model compared to higher-income students at 84 percent. Career Connect provides all students with the benefits of a role model.

Fueling Workforce Pipelines: Workforce shortages exist at all levels and across most industries. New technologies and changing landscapes predict a continued shortage of staff. Thankfully, schools have created programs to connect local businesses and some states have mandates, while at the national level, the Invest in America Act has just gone on its third tour to help solve the workforce development and readiness issues we face here in the U.S. Yet, these programs have limited impact on a student’s every day and primary experience: learning at school.

Employee Engagement Begins with Community Engagement: For industry partners, the question Career Connect helps them answer is, “What if we engaged our employees, and through that engagement, we also achieved many of the goals we have with fueling awareness of our brand, our company, our industry and ultimately – our workforce pipeline?” In fact, a Benevity study revealed that employees who participated in workplace volunteer programs had a 75 percent greater commitment to their employer and were more willing to go the extra mile at work while also proving a 57 percent reduction in turnover rates.

Solving challenges for educators

Emphasis on Real-World Learning: There is an increasing narrative in education around making connections to real-world learning. In addition, academic standards across subjects, as they get rewritten and rereleased, have an increased emphasis on connecting concepts to real-world scenarios to demonstrate student understanding. For educators, they now have at their fingertips a real live person as an example of the concept they are teaching in class. “Let’s say a teacher is on a geometry unit,” said Lisowski. “She can invite in an architect or industrial designer to speak with her class about why geometry matters and the impacts beyond the classroom. This makes real world connections real and engaging for students like never before.”

Career Preparedness: At the national, state, and district levels, our country is uniting over the need for skilled workers equipped to take on needed careers, such as the Biden Administration’s Investing in America Agenda that works to prepare a diverse workforce for jobs. Of course, students need to know a job exists before they can prepare for it. Career Connect introduces students to the professionals in today’s roles.

Logistics and Sourcing: The program offers a way for educators to connect their students with diverse people, skills and organizations, connecting a student’s learning to the real-world. Whether it is to support thematic ties to subjects (Earth Day, Engineering Week, etc.) or to teach about careers through CTE, educators need these connections. The same applies to the industry side. Employee volunteers are seeking opportunities for skills-based volunteering, but unless they know a teacher or have a direct connection to a school, it can be difficult to do. The Career Connect program makes these connections easy, relevant and safe for both students and professional volunteers.

Budget Limitations: Schools may not have the budget to execute consistent offsite learning opportunities. Career Connect facilitates virtual career learning experiences with students.

Industries offered

In the first months since launching, Career Connect includes industries across biotechnology, manufacturing, computer science, EdTech and health science. The volunteers from companies in these industries are from dozens of roles including scientists, graphic designers, marketing professionals and C-suite executives. In every industry, in every company, there are jobs that go well beyond what that industry or company is known for.

According to Pete Weir, Chief Product Officer at Discovery Education, “Every day, my team works to ensure that all the solutions and services we provide come together cohesively and effectively. That means we’re building resources that work for educators and students across any device, any discipline, and in any learning environment. We know that students sometimes have a hard time connecting what they learn in class to the wider world and that educators are always looking for easy yet effective ways to make those connections and nurture student curiosity. With Career Connect, students now have an all-access pass into what their future can look like. By meeting with professionals across an array of industries, they gain real-lived examples and real-life insights to see how a math lesson, or any lesson, can turn into a lifelong passion and career.”

There is no upward limit to the industries Career Connect can offer. They have tagged volunteers to the 16 National Career Clusters for educator searchability, but within those clusters there are countless roles and ways that those careers can connect back to the classroom.

Creating Career Connect

For Discovery Education, building Career Connect has been a real-world example of the engineering design process and the importance of project management, product development, business relations, communications and more.

When defining what they wanted to solve for (making scaled classroom connections to industry professionals streamlined and simple), the team had a lot of ideas and research, but even more to learn and test. In building a proprietary platform from the ground up that serves two main audiences (educators and industry), the biggest challenge was working with the unique needs of both sides. Discovery Education routinely connected with educators to test all aspects of the product, from concept to platform.

“We wanted Career Connect to work for educators and industries from day one,” said Weir. “We piloted the program with a few hundred educators and with actual volunteers ready for classroom visits. To make sure this worked, we tested the product with educators at every step of the way and launched it to our industry audience a few months in advance of schools. During that time, we helped train volunteers and we equipped them with presentations and resources that would help them bring their journeys and careers to life for students.”

Because the employee volunteer training aspect is rolled into the system as part of the onboarding process, educators see a high-functioning and reliable network of potential connections for students.

“Going forward,” said Weir, “our research team is working with educators who have opted in to give feedback. This, along with other educator feedback mechanisms built into the platform, creates continued opportunities to iterate for continuous improvement.”

Participant feedback

One unexpected outcome of the platform is how vocal people have been about their experience with Career Connect. Both educators and volunteers alike have used social media to share their experiences.

McKenna Akane, a middle school teacher at the Alberton School District in Montana said, “My time as a DEN Star teacher has brought more learning opportunities to my classroom than I ever thought it would. Most recently I have been able to take part in the Discovery Education Career Connections opportunities with my 6th grade Coding and Computer Science class. Connecting with a professional in the field through a Zoom session has offered valuable insights into the daily challenges and rewards of a coding career, helping my students to bridge the gap between theory and practice.

This interaction has not only broadened their understanding of the industry but has also inspired them by showcasing diverse career paths and success stories of individuals such as Edge Quintanilla at Discovery Education. Overall, the combination of virtual field trips and career connections that Discovery Education offers has enriched my students’ educational journey, fostering a deeper appreciation for their studies and opening doors to future opportunities in the coding realm and beyond.”

Tim Needles, a Smithtown technology integration specialist said on Facebook, “For professionals using the platform, it has been incredibly rewarding – both for us as the creators of the platform, as well as for them. Every industry volunteer who has done a virtual Career Connect says that the energy and excitement they had immediately following their visit was something they were very overwhelmed by. Giving back is important to people, and when they see the value of their own path/experience/expertise, it fuels the engine for ‘good.’”

How the program works

  • Career Connect is accessible within Discovery Education Experience, the company’s award-winning K-12 learning platform.
  • Educators can search by subject area, expertise, and company to see a list of industry professionals who meet their criteria.
  • All classroom visits are virtual.
  • Communication occurs at the request of the educator and can be appropriately tailored for grade levels K–12.
  • Upon connecting with an industry professional, educators can exchange messages and materials in preparation for their virtual visit.
  • Educators can browse the community of profiles and make direct requests to specific employee volunteers, or they can post a request for applications from employee volunteers to virtually visit their classroom via video conference.