Digital tools help plan real careers

(the following article appeared in the September 30, 2009 edition of The Windsor Times)

by Nathan Wright, Staff Writer

The Sonoma County Office of Education launched a program this fall to give 19,000 Sonoma County students access to career and college planning software, an online tool educational leaders hope will inspire children to begin thinking about their future.

Kuder Navigator is designed to assess students’ interests, skills and values and then recommend careers and colleges based on those results. SCOE piloted the program in 15 middle and high schools last year and educators were so impressed they went ahead with plans to offer it to 39 schools this fall, including Windsor High School and Windsor Middle School. The $19,000 program is paid for through grants and fund-raising by the county.

Dan Blake, a career development specialist at SCOE, said the program will help prepare students to make many important decisions in high school.

“High schools are asking students to make more and more sophisticated decisions on what they want to do,” said Blake. “We want to give our students more of a foundation to make those decisions and build a long-term academic and career plan.”

Windsor Middle School teacher Sunni Stecher took part in the pilot program last year and said her students enjoyed using it. “The more we got into it, the more amazed we were at what it could do,” she said. “It’s a wealth of information.”

Kuder Navigator asks students to complete three surveys that assess a student’s career interests, individual skills and what they value in the workplace. These surveys “force them to make decisions” which lead to specific career clusters, according to Kuder VP of Communications Bethney Larson.

For example, a student will be asked if they’d rather teach a person how to use a cell phone, research new features for a cell phone or manage a cell phone store. If they’d like to teach, the program will steer them toward a career in teaching or perhaps human services. If they’d rather research, the program would point them toward engineering or science technology, and if they pick management it might point them toward business administration or marketing.

While one answer isn’t enough to make a conclusion, the 60 answers on the assessment might offer the student good insight on where their interests lie.

Kuder Navigator also helps identify individual talents and workplace values, including whether a student would like to be creative in his or her career or make a lot of money.

SCOE found that students who used the tool three or more times began using it at home, a trend Blake said will help educators design effective lesson plans that will keep students interested. Overall, he said students enjoyed using the program.

“We got very good feedback so we launched an adopt-a-school campaign to pay for it,” said Blake. He estimated that 18,000 Sonoma County kids will use the program this year, a number large enough to drive down the cost to only $1 a student. “It’s very cost effective for what it offers,” he said. “It’s one of those seeing-is-believing things. Once our students set up the accounts they have them for life.”

Blake said the software developers behind Kuder have made big improvements in the last year, including a feature that allows students to publish their resume online. “When applying for a job, they can send their E-portfolio with a resume, cover letter and work samples,” he said. “Since students can use the program for life, they’ll still be able to use this years from now when researching and looking for jobs.”

The website can be accessed on any computer with internet access.

While the program is tailored to help individual students, Blake believes the overall results from all 19,000 students will help school districts plan programs and design classes tailored to popular interests. “We might find out that there are more students interested in careers in health care, which will show that we’re going to need high school and post-secondary programs to feed that,” he said.

Blake expects Sonoma County educators will continue to develop better lesson plans around Kuder Navigator in the coming year, making the tool that much more valuable to students. “It’s just an amazing resource,” he said. “It’s a wealth of information that someone would spend a lot of time researching and here it is all in one place.”

For more information check out www.kuder.com.

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