A COVID-19 response to career pathways for high school graduates

We just launched a career pathways navigational tool; think, Glassdoor for online training. Here’s why:

It’s Thursday, July 16, 2020. I receive a text from a former student who has recently graduated from a public high school in east Oakland. She asks whether I have information about paralegal certificates since she has struggled to find anything online. I ask her if this is for an internship, since the last time we spoke, she was enrolled at CSU Chico, a four-year state school in CA.

A (student’s name has been changed to protect her privacy)
Honestly, I’m not too sure. I figure that with our current situation it will be more difficult to land an internship, but I’ve decided to withdraw from Chico and just work as a paralegal but I’m pretty sure you have to get certified or something like that. So I would like to know more about how to actually become one, but if it’s possible to land an internship then I would be more than open to that.

I call her the next day, and a week later she is enrolled in an alternative college program that combines an online Bachelors degree with in person wraparound support.

But the pang of anxiety I feel from her initial outreach remains. I thought she’d be set given her current plans, yet this conversation sounds similar to others I’ve had with her peers over the last several months. Students need more practical backup options for postsecondary and career-aligned training.

She’s a student who ranks at the higher end among her peers on self-advocacy and agency. She had pursued our online college bridge program during her senior year in high school but decided to transfer to a more traditional four-year path, only to return to us for help when online options became much more practical and appealing given the current COVID-19 environment. She shared that she didn’t want to pay to attend a school online from her living room and would rather pursue something cheaper and more flexible so she could work at the same time.

And if she’s reaching out for help, it also means that there are 10x the number of students who need that help and don’t know to ask for it.

There are many more students than the ones who have returned to our team wondering:

I’m in high school; should I try to set myself up for a job because it’ll be more reliable than college right now?

I just graduated from high school; should I go to the college I planned to attend? What if I can’t meet the Expected Family Contribution anymore because my parents lost their jobs and our family income no longer reflects what we can pay?

I need to work to help the family and maintain some financial independence; what programs can I do online while I’m working? What aid can I use? What will help me get a degree or a credential to become a nurse?

And many more parents and guidance counselors wondering how to help their students while navigating growing needs and limited resources during a crisis.

Certainly, the past few months have been challenging for everyone. However, in the context of the crisis of the public school system, the despair of higher education, and an unfriendly economic environment to new job seekers, recent high school graduates have been denied opportunities at an inarguable scale. We must act proactively to ensure we change the trajectory for this generation of young people.

At The Arena Inc, we are trying to step up to do a small but critical part. We built the Career Pathways Tool, a database of online training opportunities, for students and those supporting them in navigating options. The tool is comprised of over 650 online programs from 150 online providers: anything someone could pursue end-to-end online that would yield a degree, credential, certificate, or set of skills in healthcare, IT, manufacturing, business, and education. Students can filter by these criteria — traditionally fragmented but centrally organized here — , even prioritizing aid and financing options for feasibility.

“A” knew how to ask for help and how to begin her search for alternative options, and we want to ensure we serve those who might not know yet to ask. Students can explore and find a coding bootcamp or Bachelor’s degree or medical billing and coding credential and pursue it online through our portal. Users can currently view the careers for which each program positions them and see the median national salary; next will be a two-sided platform that includes user profiles with verified training on one side and job applications and employers on the other.

Now more than ever, students are feeling confused, left behind, and unsure of what’s to come. This is a powerful way to enable our young people to proactively plan their futures.

Whether you are a student, a friend, a parent, or a school administrator, we hope that this free resource will be useful to you or someone you know. Sign up, share it with your networks, and reach out to give us feedback and help us make it better!

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The Arena Inc. is a nonprofit organization that strengthens the school-to-work pipeline to ensure young people can build reliably stable lives. We serve as a facilitator and coordinator, building partnerships with institutions across sectors — schools, training providers, employers, and affiliated funding and policy organizations — to create structured, supportive pathways for students. We build and bolster career training programs and employer talent pipelines and aim to create proof points and replicable models, but this work remains at an institutional level with limitations to scale. The Career Pathways Tool is our first product designed with, by, and for students, empowering those most traditionally disempowered. It can be more easily shared and built upon more broadly with careers and employers, so please reach out via the site’s contact us page or info@thearenainc.org to collaborate or inquire more at an institutional or individual level! Find and add us on LinkedIn, Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram!