Parents of today’s college students worry, and they should. Education-related costs, debt and loan defaults are at all-time high; kids are moving back home after college at historic rates; seventy-three percent of recent graduates report not having a job related to their major; and nearly fifty percent of Americans with college degrees have jobs that do not require them.
Sheila Curran, former Director of Career Services at Duke, noted a number of years ago that the number-one concern on the minds of parents is for their student to use the college experience to advance their careers.
College is broadly considered to be the primary vehicle for upward mobility in America and throughout the world. The truth is that forty percent of college majors, and thereby millions of college graduates annually, have no corresponding specific job opportunity. We expect those with mechanical engineering degrees to pursue mechanical engineering jobs. But what about graduates with majors in political science, women’s studies, math, philosophy, anthropology, etc.?
The process by which college majors link to the job market is, at best, obscure. Fortunately, it is clearly discernible once you find the appropriate light to shine the way. For reasons too numerous to list here, parents are perfectly suited to help their kids with the task.
There are five things parents can do to make sure their young adult is not among the millions who graduate each year and wonder, “Now that I have my degree, where is my career?” It’s a matter of getting them on the right PATH as soon as reasonably possible.
Five Ways Parents Can Help Their Teens Get On a Career Path
STEP #1: P= PARENT/ STUDENT PARTNERSHIP: Early in the game (by the 8th or 9th grade) establish yourself as the go-to person for discussions about career. The easiest way to do it is to put your listening ears on without being judgmental about what you hear. If your child becomes interested in something you do not think has long-term viability, hold your tongue and open your ears. The willingness to listen without judgment will pay big dividends later.
I admit to having a mild sense of panic when my two boys told me they wanted to be football referees at a time when other kids in the neighborhood seemed to have more ambitious career goals. Just listen, bide your time and show interest in what they are saying. Your willingness to listen will help you become a long-term partner in their career development process.
STEP #2: A=ACADEMIC AND CAREER SUCCESS BASICS: Over time you and they will get a lot of feedback about how smart they are or are not. Rather than brag about their advanced placement or play the “late developers” card, help them understand that hard work and focus are more predictive of academic and career success than raw intelligence.
STEP#3: T= TREAT COLLEGE AS A FOUR-YEAR JOB SEARCH: There is virtually no agreement among college administrators, professors and parents about why kids should attend college or what they need to study. Given the cost of education, families cannot afford to have their kids attend school and not find well-paying jobs at graduation. Help your child avoid the confusion and resulting high rate of failure by having them focus on college as a job-search process that begins freshman year.
By some reports, eighty percent of college freshmen do not have a planned major. Even those who know will switch majors at least once during the next four years. Preparing oneself for a career and finding a job is only part of choosing a major. The other part is understanding the composite skill-sets employers are looking for and developing them over the course of the next four years. Once you really get into the meat of this process you will discover there are skills employers look for regardless of major. My own research has identified seven such skills including communications, teamwork, decision-making, honesty and integrity, self-improvement, leadership and problem solving.
Among most employers these skills are considered more important than college majors. Your job as a parent/counselor is to make sure your child understands and identifies a year-over-year path that will result in developing the appropriate skill sets.
This point takes us back to the importance of establishing a parent/student partnership early in the process. It is helpful if you have already established credibility for a willingness to listen. If so, there is a good chance you will be willingly invited to participate/partner with your child at this critical juncture in the maturation process.
STEP#4: H=HEARING TO BE HEARD: If a subject is important enough to bring to the attention of the parent, it is important enough for the parent to listen to. The ability to hear what they are saying, even when their concerns appear to be petty, will enhance your ability to be heard by them even when you are being too much of a mom or dad.
STEP #5: START NOW: Before long, your attention will be taken with other things: testing, the application process, freshman orientation, getting adjusted, etc. We sometimes forget the end game. It is even possible that you may have never discussed it. That’s when students get lost, dreams dashed and their college experience results in the echoes that have gone before–where is my career?
Bill Holland, PhD is founder and managing Principal of College to Career Catalyst, LLC, a career-management consulting firm focused on linkages between higher education and the job market.
Dr. Holland is a former division 1 scholarship athlete, an award-winning college professor, business executive and author who brings unique experiences and insights to the issues confronting higher education, business and individual job seekers. He served as a member of the founding student/faculty committee for Michigan State University’s James Madison College, and jointly as Chairman of the Black Studies Program and a member of the political science department at the University of California, Riverside. He was also Chief Human Resources Officer at the University of Pennsylvania. While at Michigan State he won an Excellence-in-Teaching Award as a graduate assistant under the direction of George Will.
Dr. Holland has also held senior level positions with PepsiCo, Charles Schwab, Meridian Bank, Andersen Consulting and Right Management.