CRB researcher studies middle and high school students' readiness for careers in California

California’s diverse and booming economy, one of the world’s largest, boasts industry sectors and occupations which are always growing, and adapting to new technologies. For California to maintain its competitive edge, California needs its young adults to recognize what opportunities California industries hold for them. Before they leave high school, California’s middle and high school students (grades 7-12) should learn what beneficial role they might play in their region’s industries after they graduate.

Currently, local school boards that serve students in middle and high schools are required to offer a course of study that gives them the opportunity to attain entry-level employment skills suitable for business or industry. The schools’ obligation is to all students – including students who excel academically and those who are at risk for dropping out. 

California Research Bureau policy specialist studies student career development activities

In October 2006, a bipartisan group of 11 legislators requested that Patricia L. de Cos, Senior Research Policy Specialist with the California Research Bureau (CRB) at the California State Library, undertake a study to examine the extent to which local schools provide middle and high school students with career development activities, programs, or tools so that students can set a course of study or training to achieve their career options. De Cos received $120,000 from the James Irvine Foundation to carry out this study.

This spring, de Cos and student intern Julie Chan, from the UC Center Sacramento Program, sent – and re-sent – surveys to principals and counselors of 800 middle and high schools before school let out for the summer. De Cos and Chan attached Barnes and Noble gift cards to each survey to induce the respondents  to fill out and return the surveys. The survey data will provide information about what local resources orienting students to California’s state and regional economies and preparing students for career options are available to all students. The survey data will also show whether schools have established partnerships within their local communities that provide students with career awareness opportunities.

CRB convenes advisory group conducts interviews with employer groups, holds focus groups, plans report, Sacramento policy forums

De Cos has convened an advisory group of the legislative staff, representatives of business and labor groups, representatives of economic development and workforce preparation groups, representatives of K-12 schools, and other interested stakeholders. This summer, she and student intern Samantha Ponce (also from the UC Center Sacramento Program) will also be reviewing the literature on California’s overall and regional economies.  This information will serve as a basis to conduct interviews with employer groups or associations in order to determine the skills needed for industries in the state's regional economies that are growing faster, of greater concentration, or providing relatively higher average annual wages than other industries.

In the fall of 2007, de Cos will conduct focus groups of students, parents, and other school officials to assess their understanding of California's economy, their future roles in contributing to California's economy, or any existing obstacles to providing all students with the tools, services, or programs necessary to understanding the importance of their studies to their futures and to assist them in managing their careers. The school surveys and focus groups will allow policymakers to understand the range of existing programs or lack thereof to transition students from their educational experience in a seamless fashion to embark on a career.

De Cos plans to produce a final report that will include a summary of the survey findings and best practices of middle and high school principals and counselors; a literature review of state and regional economies; a summary of findings from interviews with employer organizations; and a summary of findings from focus groups of middle and high school students, parents, and school representatives.

The CRB will also host three policy forums in Sacramento that will allow state policymakers and officials to discuss the issues and public policy alternatives raised in the report. These forums will also provide an opportunity for policymakers to hear the perspectives of employer groups, best practices of schools, and from middle and high school students, their parents, and school personnel.

For more information about this important study, please contact Patricia L. de Cos, Senior Research Policy Specialist in the California Research Bureau at the California State Library at (916) 653-5207 or email her at




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