My name is Carol Christen. EUREKA has asked me to write a column for parents based on research and ideas from my book, What Color Is Your Parachute? For Teens. As parents have a big influence on their children's career choices, I am delighted to do so. If you have a question about career choice or career planning, please feel free to write me at Questions4Carol@eurekanet.org.
Teen career planning is about learning a process
Shortly after my book was released, an Associated Press article about the book rolled through newspapers across the country. Syndicated articles are given titles at each newspaper. It was interesting to see the variety of titles given to the article; no two newspapers used the same title. Two concerned me. They were: Parents push teens into career counseling and Career planning limits choices. They do? It does?
To avoid that sort of misinterpretation, it's helpful for parents to understand what career planning is-and isn't-and why career planning should be introduced at the high school level.
Career planning, done right, is an experience in creating options and learning how to use ones preferences to create a career path. The goal is not to limit a teenager but to teach them a process for collecting career information. This information is about themselves and the world of work. Career planning teaches teens how to use that information to make decisions that will help them learn how to support themselves through a job they enjoy.
The economics of career planning
One of the most interesting people I interviewed for my book was an economist. Steve Hamilton, PhD, surprised me when he said, "High school is the ideal time to teach career planning."
My sentiments exactly! But why did he think so? "Opportunity cost zero," was his response. My blank stare must have communicated that while I knew he was speaking English, I didn't have a clue what these three words meant in economic jargon.
Steve was delighted to explain. "When the opportunity cost is zero, there is no extra expense for taking advantage of all that opportunity has to offer. In high school, parents foot the bill for most living expenses. There is no extra cost to use the time to make career plans. Adults can always change careers or jobs, but they must also keep up their financial obligations as they do so. Unless they have a partner whose salary can pay all the bills, career exploration must be done quickly. If teens learn the process in high school they can use those four years to plan for what's next. Once they learn the process, each time they do it they'll get quicker and better results"
Finding zero cost opportunities
Make sure your teen checks out what career exploration, job shadowing, career planning and technical skill training classes or resources are available at his or her high school. Not all such programs are mandatory. It may take some effort to find out about them. Also, make sure your teen knows when they are offered. It's a shame when your senior learns that their high school does have a careers class that is only offered by one teacher as part of an Introduction to Business class for juniors.
Jobs and careers are like clothing; they need to be tried on to see how they fit each individual. With a little planning, during high school parents can guide their teens toward experiences that let them try out as many jobs as possible.
Encourage your teens to participate in Groundhog Job Shadow Day when they are freshman or sophomores. To learn more, visit (6/2015 - this link doesn't work anymore www.jobshadow.org).
By participating in the program, you and your son or daughter will know how to set up further job shadowing experiences. If your teen's high school doesn't have a work experience coordinator who can help them set up morefurther job shadowing opportunities, the you and your teen can set them up. Ideally, juniors and seniors should have 3 to 5 job shadowing experiences each semester.
Suggest that your son or daughter use at least one assignment each semester to learn more about a field or industry. Term paper? If your teen into clothes, instead of researching something of no interest for their World History class, why not a paper on "Dress and Fabrics of Ancient Rome?" Book reports can be done on a super-star or role model in an industry that your teen is considering.
Extra curricular activities (such as clubs, sports, band or an annual local event), volunteer work, community service requirements and part-time or summer work can all be used to learn more about jobs and industries for free.
Career exploration through part time work
While your teen may nag you about getting an after school job, understand the benefits and liabilities of this choice. Yes, a fast food or entry-level retail job can establish a work history and references. And, to help with family finances, your teen may need to have a part time job. But researchers have concluded that if teens work more than 10 hours a week, their studies suffer.
One of the real tragedies of teens having after school jobs is that they spend their earnings. A financial literacy study found that 98% of what teens make they spend. Help your teen learn good fiscal management by letting them spend only 25% of what they earn. The rest should be put into savings to help fund post high school studies or travel.
Finding an entry-level job in a field that interests your teen may not be easy. However, in the long run, that experience will contribute much more to their career development than a summer spent making French fries.
There is no better time than high school to learn the process
According to US News Magazine's career expert Marty Nemko, PhD (see www.martynemko.com for more of his great ideas), "High school is the only time when you have the luxury of time for career exploration. You don't have to narrow down quickly. You can learn about all the jobs that match all of your interests, investigate training or education requirements for dozens of careers, find the best preparation for the work you want to do and make a plan for how to get the best job you can."
Creating a post high school career path takes about the same amount of effort as a writing a term paper. Luckily, your teen has several years to pull this plan together. And, there is no better time to do so than when Mom and Dad are paying the bills.
|Carol Christen is a veteran career strategist and author of What Color Is Your Parachute? for Teens. Carol has spent several years researching the new generation of workers as they enter the economic marketplace of the early 21st century. Learn more about her work at www.carolchristen.com.