February 21, 2012
Career consciousness among the younger generation
When I was in high school, I don't recall average students (including myself) giving all that much thought to what they wanted to be when they grew up.
Sure, there were a few bright kids who seemed hell-bent on becoming doctors, engineers and lawyers. By and large, however, it didn't seem that the students knew much about these fields, per se, or had any real passion around them. Instead, it appeared as if they were focusing on them simply based on the generic perception that if you were good in school, those were the types of careers you targeted. Or perhaps their parents worked in one of these professions, egging them on.
As for the more vocationally minded students in my school, there wasn't a whole lot of inspiration in that regard. I think we had a shop class, where 99% of the students would pretty much goof off and then finally bang out a potholder at the end of the semester. We also had a small engine repair class, if memory serves, but it was pretty rudimentary.
Back in the day, there just wasn't much support for students who wanted to learn an actual working trade in high school, versus just prepping for college or getting their diploma, getting out and falling into something.
Have times changed? Given some of the economic dynamics we've faced as a society this past decade or two, are teenagers and young adults becoming more aware of (and involved in planning ahead for) their career future?
I've seen a few signs that career consciousness is starting at a much earlier age. For example, I was blown away during a tour of two high schools here in the area recently, where I was paraded through several classrooms devoted to state-of-the-art vocational training in the areas of food preparation, health care, journalism and the computer field.
These classrooms rocked. One computer lab looked like a data center you'd pluck right off the campus of Microsoft or Amazon.com. What an amazing facility, I thought, for helping teenagers learn practical, marketable skills with regard to technology.
Additionally, I've had numerous parents share stories with me about how their teenage kids are showing more interest in various career paths. One parent told me his son hit him up with a four-page proposal on why they should allow him to take part of his college fund and use it, instead, to purchase a high-end video camera that would allow him to pursue his dream of being a cinematographer. They were impressed by his determination -- and gave him the green light.
Another father informed me the other day that his daughter, a top student, had decided to attend nursing school following graduation. At first, he was slightly taken aback by this decision. "Why nursing and not medical school?" he asked. "Why don't you think about becoming a doctor if you're so interested in medicine? You've got the grades for it."
The daughter proceeded to walk him through her reasoning, educating him on the fact that the nursing field these days is virtually limitless and that motivated practitioners can go on to teach, become administrators, get doctorate degrees and do a whole bunch of things that go light-years beyond the average stereotypical view of what being a nurse is all about.
Plus, she said that she wanted to travel and see the world -- and that nursing was an incredibly portable profession that would allow her to quickly find work in almost any country on the planet, versus being tied down in medical school for a decade.
These may be isolated examples, but it's going to be fascinating to see whether today's younger generations take their career-planning efforts more seriously than the rest of us did growing up. Part of me mourns this development in an "end of the innocence" kind of way. But another part believes this type of pragmatic career thinking may be just what America needs out of the next generation, given how the global labor market is changing.
As much as we might wish otherwise, it's hard to argue with Thomas Friedman's notion (discussed in a New York Times article here) that a huge amount of "routine work" jobs among the middle class will continue being eliminated. Or the predictions of futurist Seth Godin, who observes here that the very nature of careers is changing, as we speak, due to globalization and technology.
Among other great points, Godin states: "When everyone has a laptop and connection to the world, then everyone owns a factory. Instead of coming together physically, we have the ability to come together virtually, to earn attention, to connect labor and resources, to deliver value."
The question: Is this stuff too grown-up and sobering for young adults to be worrying about? Or do we want our kids to understand these new realities so they can start planning, at a young age, to build stable, rewarding careers for themselves?
Karen Burns is the author of The Amazing Adventures of Working Girl, a career guide based on her 59 jobs over 40 years in 22 cities.
Lisa Quast is a certified career coach, mentor, business consultant, former corporate executive and author based in the Seattle area.
Randy Woods writes about job-search tools, networking techniques and other tips to help you land your dream job.
Matt Youngquist is the president of Career Horizons, a career counseling firm.
Natalie Singer is a Seattle writer, editor and small-business owner.
Michelle Goodman is the author of "My So-Called Freelance Life" and "The Anti 9-to-5 Guide."
Paul Anderson helps professionals in transition find their desired employment.
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