Though the terms “college ready” and “career ready” have been used together in many education plans in recent years, a new paper  from the Association for Career and Technical Education argues they are not the same.
“While there is no debate that a rigorous level of academic proficiency, especially in math and literacy, is essential for any post-high school endeavor, the reality is that it takes much more to be truly considered ready for a career,” the paper reads. “Career readiness involved three major skill areas: core academic skills and the ability to apply those skills to concrete situations in order to function to function in the workplace and in routine daily activities; employable skills (such as critical thinking and responsibility) that are essential in any career area; and technical, job-specific skills related to a specific career pathway.”
Jan Bray, executive director of ACTE, said her organization felt the need to define “career ready," given the urgings of the Obama administration and from such projects as the Common Core State Standards Initiative  that high schools prepare students to be both “college- and career-ready." When educators conflate the two, she argued, students are disadvantaged by the idea that preparation for college also readies them for a career.
“I expressed to [Education Secretary] Arne Duncan that their college- and career- readiness standard is really just college readiness,” Bray said. “The next step is to put [the definition of 'career ready'] where it will become part of the lexicon.”
Bray said ACTE is pushing for Congress to further refine the differences between “college- and career-readiness” either in the reauthorization of the Federal Perkins Loan Program or the Elementary and Secondary Education Act.
The paper goes on to argue that high schools should be preparing students in the “three major skill areas” ACTE has identified as essential for “career readiness.” Still, it acknowledges some intermediate shortcomings.
“Since most of the career opportunities for today’s students will require some form of postsecondary education, there are many times when students will not be able to acquire the necessary academic, technical or employability skills in high school that will allow them to be career-ready without further education and training,” the paper reads. “Additional knowledge and specialization in one or more of these areas is often required either immediately after high school or in the future, depending on a student’ career choices.”
David Wakelyn, program director at the National Governors Association Center for Best Practices, a group that leads the Common Core State Standards Initiative, said he does not think there are any major differences between ACTE’s definition of “career ready” and that of the initiative. Still, he argued that more work needs to be done to prove the validity of the definition.
“I think this is a nice first step in trying to figure out where the intersection is between college- and career-readiness,” Wakelyn said. “The employability skills, that stuff feels right. Still, we want to make sure that the next step here is to acknowledge that this is our best estimate of what career-readiness means and agree that it needs verification through research. A research agenda should look at people who have a high degree of earnings and what variety of degree attainments they have.”
Anthony Carnevale, director of Georgetown University's Center on Education and the Workforce, said he thought ACTE’s proactive move to define “career ready” was “refreshing,” adding that career and technical education groups “need to be back in the dialogue.”
“College- and career-ready are not the same thing,” Carnevale agreed. “If they were, why would somebody go to college or why would someone go to graduate school?”
Still, Carnevale argued it would be “a big mistake” for the government to offer a concrete definition of “career ready.” This is a conversation best left to policy groups, he noted.
“Ultimately, the message is a healthy one,” Carnevale said. “Given the growing importance of employability in the education sector, in general, this is a good argument to have."