My daughter, a high school junior, wants to be a teacher. That doesn’t sit well with my husband, who worries about the state of education and the job outlook. He and I regularly debate whether we should encourage her to pursue this interest, or strongly steer her in another direction.
Today, coaching our kids about career paths is complicated. Many of my reporter and editor friends who witnessed an overhaul of the media world are highly opposed to their kids becoming journalists. Where parents of the past pushed their kids to follow in their footsteps, we want the generation of college-bound kids we raise to go where the jobs will be.
American workers’ experiences during the recession and the uncertainty of the global economy have made many of us more opinionated about what careers our kids pursue. We have witnessed job loss and burnout. We have seen highly educated professionals such as lawyers and bankers lose their jobs. And worse, we have seen college graduating classes face an overwhelmingly tough employment arena. While it’s true that a college degree usually guarantees better wages, the mantra of parents clearly has become: Can you land a decent-paying job with that degree?
As parents, we’re just beginning to understand that the next generation will have to navigate the workplace differently. Experts forecast that workers starting out now will switch careers — that’s careers, not jobs — an average of more than three times during their lives. Should parents, then, worry less about guiding our kids into careers and focus more on helping our kids identify skills to succeed in the new economy?
Whether my daughter becomes a teacher or an engineer, her success likely will come from a mastery of technology, languages and communications skills. Most importantly, she will need the mindset to be a problem solver, innovator, risk taker and self marketer. She will need to be prepared to continuously acquire new skills, a lesson my generation has learned the hard way.
“We are fooling ourselves to think young people will get a degree and spend the next 20 years at a single company or in a single industry,” says John Swartz, regional director of career services at Everest College, which has campuses in 30 cities including Miami. “They will have to be more focused on dealing with change. In this new world order, they have to follow the jobs in demand, acquire the right skills or at least transferable skills, and know that the skill set needed might change.”
For example, Swartz says, he has seen young people get training to become medical assistants because they have a passion to help others. They later were able to apply those skills to other jobs in healthcare. “Parents need to help their kids soul search, then support their decision whatever they choose, understanding that every good high-wage job requires more skill,” Swartz says.
Cesar Alvarez, executive chairman of Greenberg Traurig law firm, factors this concept into how he advises his four children, 28, 27, 22 and 21. For centuries, the law profession has attracted smart, principled men and women. Yet, in the last few years, we’ve seen lawyers underemployed, law partners burned out and law grads without jobs. I asked Alvarez whether he has encouraged any of his children to enter the legal profession.