Building Career-Ready Students

Recently, I had the privilege of talking with Cory Epler, the Deputy State Director for Career Education at the Department of Education for Nebraska. We discussed how they as educators are adjusting their education to the changes today’s students bring.

Our discussion is a small snap shot of what educators will experience at our 2014 National Leadership Forum. Join an incredible collection of fellow educators and leaders this June, as we discuss practical ways to engage today’s students. Less than 60 seats remain, so make sure to register and reserve your seats soon!

I hope you enjoy the discussion as much as we did…


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Podcast Notes

Can you share some of the new initiatives that the Nebraska Department of Education is completing to improve student development and help students become college and career ready? 

One of the things that we’re continuing to be developed is what we’re calling “Career Readiness Toolkit.” The anchor piece in that toolkit is brand new. We worked with Growing Leaders to create a series of Habitudes for Career Ready Students. In Nebraska, we have 11 career readiness standards. We’ve been working on helping teachers teach students these skills. We’re thinking that this resource [Habitudes for Career Ready Students], as well as lesson plans and case studies, will really be an anchor piece. We aim to provide authentic situations that students can work through and what they may encounter in the workforce.

That ties in nicely to another piece that’s critical: connecting with employers. In Nebraska, we have a really great relationship with our Department of Economic Development and Department of Labor because we know that education is the pipeline to the workforce. So they’ve been working with our Career Education team on how to connect employers with students and students with employers.

We have also been developing virtual industry tours that highlight Nebraska-based industries and businesses. This prepares students for the working environment, even if they can’t physically visit a worksite or don’t live near major employers.

What is it for you that keeps you motivated and fired up?

You know, Tim, the word that comes to mind for me is purpose. My purpose is much larger than my job. My purpose in life isn’t where I’m sitting from 8-5 each day. I’m blessed to be at a job where I am fulfilling my purpose. For me, it’s that sense of purpose. It’s to make a difference for teachers and students and to make their lives better. Working in a bureaucracy can be frustrating, but at the end of the day, I just feel really at ease that it’s about doing what’s right for students and teachers.

What are some of the top changes that you feel like you’re seeing in students today? 


Technology. It’s not the device itself, but it’s the fact that students have access to content without a teacher. From an educator’s perspective, it’s not that we don’t hold the knowledge anymore. Understanding and helping students see the reliability of information out there is important.

Also, today’s students crave this authenticity. We’ve seen a demand for authentic learning experiences. We need to take the step from relevant teaching to authentic teaching.

We’re also seeing that students have fewer workplace experiences. We have to think about how we can help them experience the workplace. This is where the virtual industry tours came into play.

Is there something you’re doing to foster ambition in students?

I think it’s been connecting employers with students. Instead of having students present projects only to their class, have an employer sit in as well. Sometimes we’re too afraid of scaring the students, so we hold back. But we want our students to be prepared for reality. I think employers can speak to that.

Are there any tips you would give an educator to help reach this goal of career readiness?

The work starts when students know that you care. I’ve seen that as an educator. When students feel that I care about them as a person, that is the first relationship piece you have to start the work.

Also, help students see the relevance and authenticity of what they’re doing, and have those conversations about how it relates beyond the classroom. I wish we could tell everyone that our students’ success is much bigger than test scores. How can we help students see that there is value in the process, not just the end result? When we praise students for grades alone, we do them a disservice. Praise them for the process, for the work. Let your students know it’s okay to fail.

What would you say are the top handful of leadership skills for every educator to build into his or her life?

  • Know your purpose and your mission.
  • Be an effective communicator.
  • Be flexible and adaptable.


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Building Career-Ready Students