Melissa Godsey is a career coach who works with middle school and high school students. She leads classes at six schools and one career technical center. She uses the Alabama Career Planning System, powered by Kuder® to increase students’ self-awareness, help them explore occupations, build their education plans, and more. We asked Melissa to share how she approaches her role, how she defines success, the challenges she faces, and what she finds most rewarding.

MelissaGodsey_headshotWhat is your role in supporting students’ career development?

As a career coach, I help students through career assessments measuring their interests, skills confidence and work values. From there, I help students determine what these results mean and help them choose a career path and the necessary steps to get there.

What drew you to this line of work?

Before I was a career coach, I worked for an Alabama community college and its Upward Bound program. I realized through that job that I loved helping students achieve short- and long-term goals. I started working on my master’s degree in adult continuing education, and while I was in that process I heard about the state of Alabama introducing career coaches into all the high schools. I realized that was exactly what I needed to be doing, and an opportunity opened up!

In what ways is Alabama unique in its approach to career technical education (CTE)?

I believe Alabama having career coaches in every high school is a huge factor that differentiates our approach to CTE. I feel that we career coaches are there to bridge the gap from high schools to career technical centers/CTE. We help integrate the value of CTE in any field and encourage students to explore their options. I feel that we have become a presence in schools that helps students understand the significance and value of CTE.

What’s the value of career technical education (CTE)?

I don’t know that I can adequately explain the tremendous value of CTE. I didn’t know there was such a need for CTE until I became involved in it, and now I see that we need it now more than ever! School is supposed to prepare students to be “college and career ready” when they graduate high school, and nothing does that better than CTE. Students learn much more than technical skills. Students learn the value of hard work, employability skills, problem-solving skills, workplace etiquette, AND (I feel like people tend to forget this one) how to succeed in school/training. I believe that CTE helps students become well-rounded and prepared for whatever path they choose after graduation.

In what ways does the work you do as a career coach support statewide initiatives or mandates in Alabama?

Simply put, students are expected to be “college and career ready” when they graduate high school and that is our purpose in schools. I usually explain that my job is to help students determine what they want to do with the rest of their lives and how to get there. I feel that when that is the focal point, all the other initiatives/mandates follow.

How do you define success when you think about the impact of your work as a career coach?

I know that I will not impact every student’s life, but if I can touch the life of one student, then I count that as a success. Of course, I strive to make a difference in every student’s life, but I know that students have to be ready to start planning for the future first. When I have students come tell me about any kind of step they’ve taken that results in a college or career accomplishment, I feel that I have been successful.

How are you helping students align the courses they are taking now to their post-graduation plans?

I lead students in all of their Ed Plans through Kuder Navigator®, and I encourage them to follow a pathway (determined by each school) to achieve their post-graduation goals, especially for CTE. I do not do a lot of course scheduling for students; my counselors do amazing work with them on that.

What concerns do you have about helping students accomplish their future goals?

The main concern I have is not having enough time with my students – and I feel like the majority of career coaches would agree. We all have multiple schools and it is almost impossible to see every single student. We don’t have the time to really sit down with every student and have in-depth conversations about their futures. We do as much as we can, but there just aren’t enough of us and there isn’t enough time in the school day.

What additional supports and systems do you rely on?

In the schools I work with, I rely heavily on the counselors. I feel that I have a partnership with the counselors in all my schools and this works for us very well. I also rely on Navigator to help students figure out what steps to take in determining they would like to do as a career. From there, we explore different pathways and plans for them.

In helping to guide students through their educational experience, what strategies have worked best and what are some challenges?

I have tried several different strategies to use with students, and there have been some that stood out. When I try to relate to students and I acknowledge what they are going through in their daily lives, this helps them to understand that I am there to help them.

Not every student wants to be helped, but when I incorporate things they care about (ie. Snapchat, Fortnite, Instagram, etc.) they are more likely to trust what I’m telling them.

A big challenge I have found is that many students lack the passion to identify or pursue goals. A lot of this comes from a lack of encouragement at home (and sometimes at school). I try my best to encourage students as individuals, so they know someone is in their corner rooting for them.

What would you say to people who don’t see the value of CTE?

As a career coach I have the privilege of meeting with industry leaders in my area and across the state of Alabama. During these meetings all the employers usually share the same opinion: students do not have the soft (employability) skills necessary for the workforce.

In my opinion, schools are still hyper-focused on every student attending some type of college or university when they graduate, and that is simply not realistic. I have always believed that not every student is “made for college.”

Talk to us about the stigma associated with CTE.

Some students may need some time in the workforce before they go to college to help align their academic goals with their career goals, and some students want to work and never step foot in another classroom again. All of these options are perfectly acceptable. But the CTE stigma is so strong that students who choose these pathways are typically looked down upon and considered “less than.” The irony is that most of the time, these students have the potential to end up having a higher salary, and greater satisfaction in their chosen field than the people who are looking down on them.

People forget that jobs in the skilled trades are vital in our community, state, country, and world. Every time I’m blessed with the opportunity to help a student feel confident in their choice of CTE, I know that I’m exactly where I’m supposed to be in my role as a career coach.