Career Discovery

Preparing Young People for Careers—and Future Success

By Lena Yarian


It seems like now, more than ever before, elected officials, business leaders, educators, and other stakeholders are talking about the importance of work and career readiness.

Often, when we think of work and career readiness, we think of selecting and preparing for a specific career. Certainly, if a student has a goal in mind, they can begin taking steps to prepare for future success. For example, if they want to be a computer scientist, they can spend time becoming familiar with various programming languages and research colleges with a strong computer science program.

However, many young people are not certain what they want to do—and that’s normal. In fact, the average college student changes their major at least three times over the course of their college career, and the average adult switches careers three to seven times over their working lives.

Even if a young person is not certain of their future career path, they can still begin preparing for their success by becoming familiar with and developing career-readiness competencies. Whereas “hard skills” are the knowledge and abilities one needs to be successful in a specific career, career-readiness competencies—or “durable skills”—are universal and needed for success in all careers. Here are six of the most critical career-readiness competencies:

  • Effective Collaboration—seeking a range of diverse perspectives and creating open, cooperative, and productive environments.
  • Critical and Analytical Thinking—using logic, research, data, and intuition to break down complex problems and determine feasible solutions.
  • Engaging Communication—transferring information through appropriate channels and clearly and effectively articulating a position to influence desired outcomes.
  • Cultural Agility—assessing situations to navigate cultural, structural, and situational norms and foster positive relationships.
  • Creativity and Innovation—looking for opportunities to use original thoughts and approaches to disrupt status-quo assumptions and make improvements.
  • Self-direction—taking initiative to set goals to achieve maximum productivity

For young people, being able to demonstrate these career-readiness competencies, or durable skills, may be even more important than acquiring hard skills:

Durable skills are transferable, regardless of a young person’s ultimate career path.

Hard skills are always changing. (Experts predict that 85 percent of the jobs that will be available in 2030 haven’t even been invented yet.) Durable skills are forever. They cannot be replaced by technology and they help make employees more resilient in the rapidly evolving world of work.

Durable skills are more sought-after by employers than hard skills. A new report cofacilitated by the Indiana Chamber Institute for Workforce Excellence looked at 1.6 million Hoosier job postings over the past two years. Seventy-five percent of postings included at least one durable skill, and 55 percent included two or more durable skills. The top five durable skills were wanted by employers 3.5 times more than the top five hard skills.

Some people assume that while hard skills are developed through training and education, durable skills are inherent and cannot be taught. This thinking is absolutely false. On the contrary, as a society we must teach students about durable skills, encourage them to practice and strengthen them, and provide them with intentional and meaningful opportunities to do so. Furthermore, if we want to convey the importance of durable skills, we must recognize students for their achievements, just as we might give a student a blue ribbon for a great science fair project or an A for a well-written essay.

At Junior Achievement of Northern Indiana, our goal is to empower young people with the knowledge, skills, confidence, and inspiration they need to own their future economic success and strengthen their community. In recent years, we have been redoubling our efforts to shine a spotlight on the importance of durable skills and help students master them. For example, we are developing an exciting new resource, the JA ConnectTM Credentialing Platform, an online platform that is designed to guide and track students as they progressively master the six most critical career-readiness competencies. Over the course of their middle and high school careers, students, at their own pace, will gradually advance through the platform, engaging in online learning opportunities and completing interactive skills tests to earn six “microcredentials”—one for each career-readiness competency. After earning all six microcredentials, students will be awarded a “Career-Ready Credential.”

The credentialing platform will motivate young people by providing them with tangible goals and recognition. It will benefit employers by helping them identify future employees who understand and have mastered the most sought-after durable skills.

We hope more educators, youth-serving organizations, and businesses will join us in our efforts. We are confident that, if the next generation is armed with strong durable skills, it will help strengthen our businesses and organizations, while giving young people the confidence and ability to achieve future career success—whatever path they may choose to take.


Higher Education, Workforce, Military, Skilled Trades, Entrepreneurship, Internships & Apprenticeships

About the author

Lena Yarian

Lena Yarian is president of Junior Achievement of Northern Indiana, which provided 184,798 student experiences during the 2022–23 school year.