In a November post, I commented that holidays are great times to gather career information. Today's post has additional ideas. But first, a note on why that career information is needed.
Before writing the first edition of What Color Is Your Parachute for Teens, I gathered information from about 500 young people ages 14 – 28. Over 400 of them were over 21 and working full or part time. Of those in that group who had gone to college, 38% felt that they had studied the wrong subject with regard to their real interests. A phrase used over and over by was that they “did not know about professions beyond doctor, lawyer or business person.” At nearly 4 out of 10, this lack of career awareness is a significant issue.
Career awareness is the first kind of career information that most teens and young adults need. Whether you are 19 or 13, if you haven't yet explored several dozen jobs, career awareness is the fist step towards developing a successful work life.
However, when gathering career information, your focus needs to be on two tracks. One is the usual, “What do you want to be?” This question usually refers to an ultimate career goal that may take some time to achieve. The question, “What do you want to do to support yourself after high school?” is rarely asked. In many ways, it’s the more important question to answer.
Whether work bound or college bound, young adults need jobs. Going to college doesn’t lessen the need for a job; 85% of college students work. For both groups, being able to earn more than minimum wage is very desirable. Higher wage jobs enable young people to finance their preferred lifestyle (with less support from the parentals), let them explore and get experience in fields that most interest them and give them all the good stuff that comes with a budding sense of independence.
With the need for more career awareness and information in mind, here are a few simple activities that teens and parents can do over the holidays:
1. Explore job families - A job family is a grouping of jobs that do similar work and require similar types of skills, knowledge, training and experience. Job families contain jobs from entry level to those that need quite specialized training, abilities and experience.
You’ll find that there’s not complete agreement on the number of job families. O*net lists 23; other sites list between 19 and 14. The important point isn't the number but to explore different job families to learn more about jobs that might be of interest. Every day of vacation, pick a family that tweeks your curiosity and learn about the jobs in it.
When you hear people talk about job clusters, they are talking about several jobs within a job family that require similar skills, training and experience. In this economy, taking classes that will prepare you for more than one kind of job in a field just makes sense.
2. Learn about jobs of friends and relatives: Here’s an activity you and a parent can set up around a holiday brunch, lunch or dinner table.
The best way to set up this fact-finding activity is a series of questions. That way, you can go around the table quickly and it’s less likely that someone can hog the conversation.
Have one of your parents explain that you are beginning to explore careers. Would each person first say what job they have and what field it’s in. You will have your own questions, but be sure to ask these, one question per round.
a. How did you get into this line of work?
b. What do you like about it?
c. What don’t you like about it.
d. What’s the best career decision you ever made?
e. What’s the worst career decision you ever made?
f. If your current job isn’t your dream job, what is?
Make a mental or actual note (keeping a pocket size notebook with you is a real help when collecting career information) of which people have jobs that interest you. Before they leave, ask them some additional questions, such as what kind of training is needed for their kind of work and if they know other people who might be willing to talk with you. If you sense they are safe folk, ask for their email address so you can stay in touch. The next day, be sure to send an email thanking them for their information. Why the next day? To succeed in the world of work, you need to know how to respond quickly.
3. Play the alphabet job game. Whether traveling by car, plane or train, you’ll probably pass all kinds of advertising. Just like the license plate game, see if you can find mention of jobs from A to Z. If you get through a couple rounds successfully, challenge yourself, or your traveling companions, to do the game Z to A.
Another helpful version of this game is having people think of the names of jobs from A to Z. The game goes more quickly this way, although people will still get stumped coming up with jobs for some letters.
4. Another good ‘round the table question is: “What’s the most unusual job you’ve ever heard of?” You may learn about jobs that you didn’t know existed. For example, you probably can name many of the jobs required to distribute food. But, what are the jobs done in the field of Food Security?
You can use the Internet or go to a library to find out more about jobs or fields that sound interesting.
5. If you already know the names of some jobs that interest you, but you’ve never learned much about them, use your time off from school to research at least three.
Again, why is becoming aware of different careers important? One of my interviewees summarized the need beautifully...
"I wish I would have known that there were opportunities to earn a comfortable living much closer to the types of dreams and interests I had in high school. I was an avid lover of maps back then. Had I known that being a cartographer was an available career, I would have fervently pursued it.” Adam Hoverman, (who after 12 years of higher education and residency is a family practice physician)
Just in case you don’t know this already, career planning can save you time, money, and misery.
If you do any of these activities please give feedback. If you've know other career awareness exercises that teens can easily do over the holidays, please share.
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