This report synthesizes research and programs centered on youth occupational identity—their vision of their future selves in the workforce, what they like to do, what they believe they are skilled at, and where they feel they belong. The report outlines a three-part framework for understanding influences and barriers that are tied to occupational identity outcomes of self-concept, self-efficacy, and a sense of belonging.


Pathways to viable and high-value occupations are broken for many youth. Labor market expert Tony Carnevale argues that ever since A Nation at Risk was published (National Commission on Excellence in Education 1983), the high school curriculum has emphasized an academic “new basics” focus that has crowded out career preparation. In his advisory role for this report, he argued that “it is no longer a question of whether youth are adequately prepared for the job market by the K–12 system—they aren’t.” Add to this the globalized marketplace for talent, and changing workforce needs due to automation, and creating viable occupational pathways becomes ever more challenging.

In order to address this gap, many programs have focused on support for skill development and workforce training, including STEM programming, vocational training, job placement, and reskilling. Educators and policymakers have been making headway in modernizing school curricula through efforts such as CS4All and expanded STEM offerings. Despite this, pathways are still insufficient for STEM specialties. Even with the push for STEM preparation, student interest is stagnant (ACT 2016), particularly among underrepresented minority students. Questions of diversity and inclusion continue to plague professional communities even in progressive enclaves such as Silicon Valley. In response, researchers and educators have focused growing attention on issues of culture and identity, and on related barriers such as stereotype threat and implicit bias. This report reviews and synthesizes this growing area of research and intervention, focusing specifically on occupational identity development in adolescence.