OCDE is paving the pathway for career education across Orange County

Since 2014, OCDE’s award-winning OC Pathways initiative has been creating self-sustaining partnerships to expand career pathway opportunities for Orange County students. This countywide consortium made up of OC’s 27 school districts, businesses, colleges and local agencies is creating work-based learning opportunities for students and empowering educators with 21st-century learning strategies.

Pretty impressive right? But that is only part of the program.

Through the OC Pathways K-12 Strong Workforce Program (SWP) grant, OCDE is leading the charge to not only enhance and expand career technical education (CTE) but also pave a clear career education pathway for all Orange County students.

How?

One of OC Pathways’ biggest accomplishments over the last year has been the hiring of 14 career counseling coordinators – or CCCs – at almost every secondary school district in Orange County. Under the direction of OCDE and a district designee, CCCs assist with the alignment of CTE curriculum, activities and counseling efforts at both the middle school and high school level.

According to Kathy Boyd, executive director of OC Pathways and director of the OCDE’s career education unit, the purpose of the CCC position is to help develop the critical infrastructure necessary to strengthen and align K-12 pathways with community college career education programs across the region.

“What we’re doing at OC Pathways is trying to align all the CTE work that’s being done at our K-12 schools with regional community colleges in an articulated way so that our high school students are flowing easily into our community college pathways,” says Boyd. “There are a lot of students in high school repeating course content because our systems are not aligned well enough yet.”

According to OC Pathways Coordinator Kim Goodwin, the career counseling coordinator role helps to provide opportunities and better outcomes for students — and a well-prepared workforce for Orange County’s businesses.

“There’s never been anybody who’s tried to systemize change regionally while creating opportunities for K-12 students,” says Goodwin. “So, I think we’re growing on all fronts because people are seeing there’s infrastructure now to support their ideas and efforts through the CCC position. It’s really a win-win for all stakeholders.

To better understand the pivotal role this position plays throughout the county, we talked with CCCs from four different OC districts. Here is what they had to say.

Collaboration is key

“One of the most important aspects of the CCC position is the collaboration which occurs between OCDE and the other CCCs across the county,” said Kellee Shearer, career counseling coordinator for Laguna Beach Unified.

Career Counseling Coordinator

Career Counseling Coordinators from across the county meet bi-weekly via zoom to collaborate and expand career opportunities for OC students.

Shearer says that having a position dedicated to career awareness and a team of CCCs who bring a wealth of experiences, talents, and knowledge has allowed the team to expand services and opportunities to all students in the OC.

“Not only do we meet as a team every two weeks, but we also collaborate via email,” said Shearer. “The collaboration between the 14 CCCs not only helps generate new ideas, but also merges pieces from multiple solutions into a better plan for success.”

Shifting the narrative

“For a long time CTE – or vocational education – was by some believed to be for ‘those kids,’ but that is certainly not the case anymore,” said Brandi Augenstein, career counseling coordinator for Brea Olinda Unified. “These are not easy courses. These are highly skilled, highly technical courses that lead to careers that are highly in-demand.”

Shifting the mindset of the teachers, students and the families is an important part of the CCC role, said Augenstein. CTE programs equip students with the tangible skills sought by industry leaders to address the widening skills gap and evolving workforce.

Advancing careers through counseling

“Counselors at the school site are the experts in knowing, understanding and supporting the academic, social/emotional and college and career development and needs of all students at their site,” said Connie Jacobs, career counseling coordinator for Irvine Unified.

“In the CCC role, where there is a focus on career education, we get a ‘balcony view’ of how CTE looks district-wide,” she said. “Through data collection, collaboration, professional development and the sharing of best practices, the CCC is instrumental in ensuring all students have access to an authentic CTE learning experience, while also increasing student access to new pathways, industry certifications, leadership opportunities.”

The power of partnerships

CTE initiatives, such as career pathway programs, apprenticeships and internships, aren’t very successful if students can’t learn from industry experts or apply what they’re learning in a real work environment.

Katie Treat, career counseling coordinator for Orange Unified, said the district has expanded CTE course offerings in the fields of biotechnology, construction, business and marketing — to name a few — and have also expanded certifications opportunities, so students have access to relevant curriculum that is immediately applicable to specific career paths.

“COVID-19 has presented opportunities for us to creatively collaborate with our business partners,” Treat said.

“In the spring, we held 18 virtual advisory meetings with our amazing CTE teachers and business partners where we discussed industry trends, our CTE curriculum scope and sequence per pathway, soft skills that are needed per industry, current technologies in place, and certification opportunities for students,” said Treat.

To learn more about career education opportunities available to students in Orange County, please visit the OC Pathways website.