What kind of career assistance did you receive when you were in high school? What kind of help are young people you know getting? What can you do to help?
Mavis, a recent law graduate, doesn't want to practice law. But what to do? Mark, a grade 12 student, wants to take a year off before completing any post high training. His parents are upset.
The dilemmas of Mavis and Mark are common. Being undecided about career direction is a normal part of growing up. Indecision also happens to adults periodically. We evaluate who we are and where we want to go during transition periods in late adolescence and again at about age 30, 40, 50, 60 and so on.
For the high school or college student the questions, "Who am I?" and "What should I do?" can be overwhelming and anxiety-provoking. Peers, school, family and other societal pressures add to their stress. Some stress could be reduced if students were helped to understand themselves, explore their options, define broad career goals, and understand that career and lifestyle decision making is lifelong.
Are schools doing an effective job helping students make smooth school to work transitions?
Some schools are doing an excellent job preparing students for college entrance. But to take what? To prepare for what occupation or occupational field? Many graduates, like Mavis, with university degrees and no career goals, are paying off student loans in excess of $80,000.00!
Although university is a good place to learn more about yourself, meet others and explore some career options, is a four year university degree the best option for all students? Recent research by US Department of Education (https://www.ed.gov/news) indicate that nearly half of all students who begin college do not graduate within six years, and the consequences of taking on debt but never receiving a meaningful degree can be severe. Students who borrow for college but never graduate are three times more likely to default. A stronger focus on outcomes for students means change for everyone – schools, students, states, accreditors, and the federal government.
Some adolescents, who are more interested and talented in working with their hands or want to work outdoors, feel pressured to attend college. Many can achieve satisfaction and success without a degree. Brad, a college drop-out, has a successful computer repair business. Fred, a former college president, is a carpenter. Karol, a former English professor, has her own catering business.
Many students go to university because they're told they'll earn more if they have a degree. While this is true on average, many technical, trade and crafts workers such as drafters, electricians, automobile mechanics and construction supervisors earn more than university educated teachers, dietitians and social workers.
What can schools do to help students with post-high plans? One solution is to offer effective career education programs and services. As an integral part of the educational process, career education assists students develop healthy emotions, positive self-concepts, good communication skills, abilities to understand, accept and help others, and contribute to their communities.
Career education helps students acquire appropriate attitudes, knowledge and skills in three interrelated areas.
1. Knowledge of self and others. Inventories and varied experiences help students assess personal characteristics such as interests, needs and strengths and use these to explore compatible lifestyle options. Students also acquire interpersonal skills and understand that personal and career development is lifelong.
2. Exploration of career and lifestyle alternatives. This includes exploring occupation alternatives and various education/training routes to job entry. Study and job search skills, money management, economic principles, and family, leisure and citizenship roles and settings are also addressed.
3. Decision-making and goal setting strategies. These are understood and applied to all life components.
Students are encouraged to delay more permanent choices until they better understand themselves and their options, but make tentative choices to give meaning, motivation and direction to school and life experiences. They also learn that they have control over their personal and career destinies. Flexibility and planned risk taking is fostered.
All good teachers implement some of these concepts. They also show the relevancy of subject matter and help students develop an appreciation of lifelong learning.
Ideally, educators, parents and community members work with students to help them prepare for working, living and making a societal contribution. The result is satisfied, well-adjusted, healthy and productive adults.