In April 2013, I worked with colleagues to create, distribute, and analyze a survey that asked high school counselors about the viability of a career readiness assessment for high school students. This blog post is a continuation of that discussion (see a summary of this survey here).

A divide often exists between what recent high school graduates know and can do and what employers expect in the workplace. This is not a new issue, but while college readiness has been heavily emphasized in the world of education and educational assessment, the topic of career readiness has only recently seen a resurgence.

What exactly is career readiness? It generally involves helping high school students prepare for vocational technical schools, apprenticeships, or the workforce rather than four-year colleges, although the meaning is often overshadowed by college readiness when used in the term “college and career readiness.” Definitions also vary depending on who’s answering the question, as shown in the following statements that give a perspective on how various stakeholders approach and define college and/or career readiness.

  1. The Smarter Balanced Assessment Consortium acknowledges that its assessments are “not meant to certify student readiness for the world of work.” Furthermore, “Given the diversity of occupations — and the wide array of [English language arts] and mathematics knowledge and skill required by occupations — it is not possible to draw a bright line between students who are and are not ready for productive careers. Further, recent research by the National Assessment Governing Board concluded that college and career readiness are not equivalent constructs and that students who are not ready for entry-level, credit-bearing college courses may be ready for postsecondary career education or job training.”
    Smarter Balanced1
  2. “From an academic perspective, college and career readiness means that a high school graduate has the knowledge and skills in English and mathematics necessary to qualify for and succeed in entry-level, credit-bearing postsecondary coursework without the need for remediation — or put another way, a high school graduate has the English and math knowledge and skills needed to qualify for and succeed in the postsecondary job training and/or education necessary for their chosen career (i.e., community college, university, technical/vocational program, apprenticeship, or significant on-the-job training).”
  3. “ACT defines college readiness as the level of achievement a student needs to be ready to enroll and succeed — without remediation — in credit-bearing first-year postsecondary courses. And by postsecondary we mean primarily two-year or four-year institutions, trade schools, and technical schools. Today, however, workplace readiness demands the same level of knowledge and skills as college readiness. While not every student plans to attend college after high school, many of the jobs that can support a family require knowledge and skills comparable to those expected of the first-year college student.”
  4. “A career-ready person effectively navigates pathways that connect education and employment to achieve a fulfilling, financially-secure and successful career. A career is more than just a job. Career readiness has no defined endpoint. To be career ready in our ever-changing global economy requires adaptability and a commitment to lifelong learning, along with mastery of key academic, technical and workplace knowledge, skills and dispositions that vary from one career to another and change over time as a person progresses along a developmental continuum. Knowledge, skills, and dispositions that are inter-dependent and mutually reinforcing.”
    Career Readiness Partner Council4

Having these different perspectives makes it difficult to determine how best to approach career readiness. We know a great deal more about college readiness because of research by the College Board, ETS, ACT, and other such entities that do college preparation and assessment. The political and public relations aspects, as well as the academic standards, are much more grounded in what we know about college readiness.

However, there are certainly fields of study and organizations that delve into the certification of job skills such as computer network administrator or nuclear power plant operator. The work of clinical psychologists can also add value with regard to personality factors such as emotional IQ and introversion/extroversion. However, we use most assessments given to grade-school students for accountability purposes, and focus primarily on content areas of math, science, and English language arts.

This does not mean that career readiness cannot be measured in our high schools, but it would require a rethinking of what is required to be career ready. It would also require that postsecondary readiness — whether going on to a four-year college, a two-year college, or a vocational technical school — be evaluated based on a student’s preference, abilities, and skills. This would require a rather large paradigm shift and a very different set of assessments. After all, for high school students going to a four-year college, not being sure of their career interests may not be a problem because the extended time and degree options available to them provides exposure to a variety of career choices. However, for students whose interests and skills may be best suited for vocational technical schools or apprenticeships, the time to make a career decision may be limited.

Career readiness should not be just part of a phrase, but rather a target that is just as meaningful as college readiness. We might look at the work of John Holland’s Hexagonal Model of Career Interests, Donald Super’s Work Values Inventory, Dale Predigar’s ACT World-of-Work Map, and others who put forth models of vocational and occupational choice and make room for multiple paths of learning that would ultimately lead to more successful and productive citizens.


1Smarter Balanced Assessment Consortium (2014). Career readiness frameworks introduction and implementation guide. Retrieved from


3ACT, Inc. (2008). ACT’s college readiness system: Meeting the challenge of a changing world. Retrieved from