Career Awareness & Exploration

Career awareness and exploration helps students build an understanding of the full landscape of careers by providing experiences that allow them to interact with industry professionals. This includes helping students explore and better understand their own passions throughout their time in the K-12 system, while supporting students in having a plan for life after high school.

Benefits and Challenges


  • Low/no risk opportunities to engage students in the community
  • Chance to engage employees in community impact efforts 
  • Invest time, energy, and resources to help develop the local workforce
  • Promote the organization and potential careers within by engaging with students and families in the community
Potential Challenges
  • Bandwidth of internal team to coordinate and manage education partners
  • Identifying the right fit for partnerships and programs at school

Students & Educators

  • Students get exposure to wide range of career opportunities and better understand post-secondary options
  • Chance for students to build social capital through interactions with adult workforce and community leaders
  • Foster relationships with local organizations and identify opportunities for deeper engagement along the WBL continuum (i.e. internships)
Potential Challenges
  • Time commitment and resources to get a program started
  • Making initial connections with potential partner organizations

Career Awareness and Exploration Approaches

An opportunity for students to learn about a particular occupation or profession to see if it might be a suitable fit for them. Job Shadowing may be done formally through a program or informally through networking and relationships. Virtual Job Shadowing is a great opportunity for students to learn about a wide range of careers, including those that may not have a local presence. 

One of the most common ways that businesses engage with students, participating in a career fair or being a guest speaker for a classroom are typically organized by educators who conduct outreach to local professionals requesting their participation.

Many high schools in Colorado have developed career pathways for students that include a blend of courses (typically Career and Technical Education) and out-of-school experiences that help students explore and prepare for post-secondary pathways and careers aligned to their passions.

Sector Partnerships allow businesses to collaboratively plan and engage students in career exploration opportunities as a collective, lessening the burden on an individual business. More than 750 businesses in Colorado are currently involved in a partnership.

Each student in Colorado completes a multi-year process that guides students and families in the exploration of career and post-secondary opportunities. Students develop awareness, knowledge, attitudes, and skills to create their own path to success.

Organized internally or through a partner organization (i.e. Big Brothers Big Sisters), employees have the opportunity to work directly with a student and support them in understanding and navigating their pathways to success after high-school.

Tours require relatively little effort for employers and can provide a meaningful experience for students and educators to learn about the needs and opportunities of local employers. 

Additional Resources

Job Shadowing Best Practices


Set students up for success by establishing clear expectations. Students should research your organization beforehand to better understand the business’ mission and type of work being done. They should also be prepared to discuss their personal interests and ambitions and to ask meaningful questions. Perhaps most importantly, they should be expected to arrive on time and present themselves in a professional manner throughout their visit.


Pick the shadow-day strategically. This typically means finding a day with enough unstructured time to show the student guest around the workplace, make introductions, and answer questions. Ideally the day includes opportunities to learn from authentic activities such as meetings or presentations.


Involve (or at least alert) your colleagues. Looping colleagues into the shadow day can allow for meaningful exposure to a variety of perspectives and responsibilities, and a richer student experience.


Create an agenda. A plan allows your guest to better understand what to expect and negates the possibility of awkward blocks of unstructured time. Importantly, “shadow days” do not need to be a full day–student guests can learn a great deal from a half-day visit.


Plan what you would like to share. Typically it is easiest to ‘warm up’ by sharing a bit about your personal and professional background. Throughout the day it is helpful to explain how the office is organized, the title and role of coworkers you interact with, current projects and priorities of the organization, and general career advice.


Buy lunch (or remind your guest to bring their own). This is particularly important for students who may not have the money to purchase their own lunch. A “professional lunch” can be a new and powerful experience for all students.

Examples and Partners

Green Mountain High School is a great example of a school that has developed smaller learning communities within the school where students choose pathways focused on certain careers that allow them to explore their passions and interests. Cañon City and Arvada High School have developed similar programs, with AHS in its first year offering a similar pathways program.

Colleen Owens, Principal GMHS
Bill Summers, Principal CCHS
Gina Rivas, Principal AHS

GMHS & CCHS Promising Practices 
GMHS Academy Handbook
Canon City Pathways Handbook

JeffCo’s Career Explore program (part of the district’s CareerLinks efforts) works with students who feel unsupported by the traditional high school model to help them explore and identify post-secondary opportunities that align with their skills and interests. In addition to completing their high-school degree and learning about careers, students are also connected to internship and apprenticeship opportunities. The program is also being piloted at Fort Lupton HS this spring, which includes internship opportunities through Merritt Family Enterprise.

Jennifer Marquez, JeffCo CareerLinks Specialist
Griff Wirth, former principal, program founder
Nikki Chima, Fort Lupton HS Career Explore

News: Career Explore Program is a “Thread of Hope”

The Legend HS EDGE Program provides students the opportunity to pursue their passions through a personalized learning model. Students engage in authentic and memorable experiences – connected through all content areas – developing the skills needed to compete in a global society. 

Daniel Simington, Assistant Principal
Mari Farley, Assistant Principal

EDGE Learning Philosophy
Student Planning Resources

Parkview Medical Center has created an 18-week medical rotation observation program for seniors in high school. Students spend 1.5 hours, 4 days a week in the hospital participating in curriculum-based learning scenarios that help them experience first-hand the wide range of careers and opportunities in healthcare. In addition to providing nearly 30 students this unique opportunity each year, this has also become a pipeline building strategy for the hospital, which has hired graduates of the program to its full-time staff.

Stacy Cristelli, Community Relations Coordinator

Colorado Manufacturing Partnerships such as NECOM in northeastern Colorado, NOCOM in northern Coloradoand SECOM in southeastern Colorado actively engage with the education system to offer a wide range of career exploration opportunities for 6th – 12th grade students. Additionally, teachers, parents, counselors, and policy makers learn about the manufacturing industry in Colorado through open meetings with community partners. Contact: SECOM    NECOM    NOCOM