Measuring Career Readiness: What, Why, and How

by Alexandria Ball and Miya Warner, SRI International
September 17, 2020

(Repost of an August 29, 2019 post on the REL Appalachia Blog. REL AP serves educators in Kentucky, Tennessee, Virginia, and West Virginia to support use of data and evidence to improve academic outcomes for students.)

The Regional Educational Laboratories work in partnership with educators and policymakers to develop and use research that improves academic outcomes for students.

The question of how schools can best prepare students to enter the workforce is raised constantly in settings from classrooms to boardrooms; the answer, however, remains elusive. Employers increasingly critique the preparation of incoming graduates, with only 11 percent agreeing that students have the skills and competencies1,2,3,4 needed to succeed in the workplace. Statistics like these have spurred some to reassess the U.S. systems of K–16 workforce preparation. The rapid changes in the workforce 5,6 make it challenging to reach consensus on what skills students should have when leaving high school. What does it mean today to be “career ready,” and how can such a complex and evolving concept best be assessed and supported?

To address these very questions, REL Appalachia hosted a workshop that brought together representatives from all ten RELs as well as nationally renowned experts to map the national career-readiness landscape. On July 23, 2019, in Arlington, Virginia, REL staff and career-readiness experts came together to discuss how educators and researchers in each region are addressing the development and measurement of career readiness, and shared ideas for how to improve and sync these efforts nationally. The table below includes links to more information about the REL projects featured during this discussion.

Prior to this convening, REL AP conducted a comprehensive literature scan on career readiness, organized around two simple questions: “What should we measure?” and “How should we measure?” The scan outlines considerations for selecting or developing a career-readiness framework and provides resources and strategies for sifting through the array of tools available for measuring career readiness in ways that are valid, reliable, fair, and useful in different contexts.

Featured REL career-readiness projects

REL Appalachia Assessment of the Alignment between West Virginia’s High School Career and Technical Education Programs and the Labor Market

Trends in Virginia High School Career and Technical Education Credential Attainment and Postsecondary Enrollment Outcomes

REL Mid-Atlantic Research-Based Instruments for Measuring Students’ Soft Skills
REL Midwest The Postsecondary Pathways of Minnesota Public High School Graduates: Investigating Opportunity Gaps
REL Pacific Defining and Implementing Career-Relevant Educational Content in Communities with High Levels of Out-Migration
REL West Education and Career Planning in High School: A Longitudinal Study of School and Student Characteristics and College-Going Behaviors

Multi-Year Education and Career Planning Coaching for Data Use and Student Support

Strengthening Cross-Sector Data Infrastructure in Rural California Career Pathways Consortia

Common themes across the nation

During the workshop, REL representatives discussed the work they are pursuing to support development of career readiness in their regions, and career-readiness experts—David Conley, professor, University of Oregon; Amy Loyd, associate vice president, Jobs for the Future (JFF); and Scott Solberg, professor, Boston University—presented on their work. Several common themes emerged from these presentations:

  • Defining the core competencies associated with career readiness
    Across the regions debate is active about which interpersonal, intrapersonal, and cognitive competencies constitute career readiness. Although some key career competencies—such as collaboration and communication skills—appeared repeatedly across state and expert frameworks, no clear consensus has yet emerged on a full set of competencies.

  • Cultivating early career awareness and planning
    Educators across the states used to view career exploration as an activity primarily for technical education students in high school. Now, educators increasingly see career exploration as an important tool that can be introduced in late elementary or middle school to engage parents and students, inform course selection, and guide work-based learning experiences.

  • Partnering with employers and providing quality work-based learning experiences
    Nationally schools and employers are increasingly providing students with work-based learning experiences (job shadows, internships, apprenticeships) to help them develop key competencies, build their referral network, and make more informed choices about their future. However, tracking and measuring the quality of work-based learning experiences is an ongoing challenge.

  • Aligning to local labor markets
    Over the past few decades Americans have become less mobile; the typical adult lives only 18 miles from his or her mother.7 The fact that many young adults stay close to their hometowns underlies the importance of fostering an education system that is well aligned to the local labor market.

Next steps

Building off of the day’s discussion, REL AP released a full summary of the event and common themes and plans to host a webinar to provide practitioners with resources for measuring and supporting students’ career planning and readiness.



1 Lippman, L., Ryberg, R., Carney, R., & Moore, K. (2015). Workforce connections. Key “soft skills” that foster youth workforce success: Toward a consensus across fields. Washington, D.C.: Child Trends, Inc.

2 Manpower Group (2016/2017). >U.S. Talent Shortage Survey. 11th annual talent shortage survey. Milwaukee, WI: Author.

3 Rosenberg, S., Heimler, R., & Morote, E-S. (2012). Basic employability skills: A triangular design approach. Education and Training, 54(1), 7–20.

4 Grasgreen, A. (2014). Ready or Not. Washington, D.C.: Inside Higher Ed.

5 Carnevale, A., Jayasundera, T., & Gulish, A. (2016). America’s divide recovery: College haves and have-nots. Washington, D.C.: Georgetown University, Center on Education and the Workforce.

6 English, D., Cushing, E., Therriault, S., & Rasmussen, J. (2017). College and career readiness begins with a well-rounded education: Opportunities under the Every Student Succeed Act. Washington, D.C.: American Institutes for Research.

7 Bui, Q., & Miller, C.C. (2015, December 23). The typical American lives only 18 miles from mom. New York Times, December 23, 2015.