by Dawn Casey-Rowe, Keeper of the Faith
“I hope you don’t expect to get a job that way!”
I remember the first words of encouragement I received when I began looking for a teaching job. I was on crutches, the victim of a basketball game gone terribly wrong. It was one of those moments when I wished for the Almighty to part the clouds and give me a better retort.
Instead, I muttered something to the effect that I’d get a job, and hobbled out the door. I doubted myself momentarily. Would I get a job? History jobs are tough to come by. There has to be a George Washington convention deep in the middle of nowhere stocked with kegs of free ale and endless tables of cherry pie. Then, and only then, would enough history teachers go missing for me to get a job–teachers don’t leave free food behind.
Because Life Is Bigger Than College
I did get a job at an amazing career and technical high school. Since that day, I’ve been faithfully teaching the next generation of school haters their history so they’re not doomed to repeat it. But soon after they leave my class, they have to get a job of their own. They must repay the world for letting them freeload for eighteen years.
Unfortunately, the job market is changing. More and more positions are being outsourced or handed over to temp agencies. While people of my grandparents’ generation had one career and retired, my students will most likely have several jobs and careers. The Bureau of Labor and Statistics does not yet keep statistics on career changes, but some experts predict up to seven careers for Millennials. In two generations, job security has gone completely out the window.
If my grandparents’ friends tended to have one job, I’ve had nearly three careers. This doesn’t count college, which was so expensive I double-majored in waitressing. If you graph this (just for the sake of the Common Core) you’ll see a sharply increasing line representing the number of jobs held from The Greatest Generation through to Gen X and Ys into today’s Millennials.
This represents the need for today’s students to reinvent themselves to make the cut.
What To Tell Students Graduating Into A New Economy
College costs have increased well over a thousand percent since I went to college, yet wages for graduates are decreasing.
Should students go to college? Several successful entrepreneurs say, “no.” The Uncollege movement’s “Gap Year” encourages students to take a year off. It provides programs, mentors, and group housing which give the learning and feel of college without all the expense. The premise is that students reach goals by working toward them, not simply studying books.
Author and entrepreneur James Altucher, an outspoken voice in the “skip college” movement, addresses non-college possibilities in his 50 Alternatives to College. 50 Alternatives is his update to 2012’s 40 Alternatives to College, so radical at the time of release just two years ago Altucher admits he’s openly received death threats for merely suggesting kids do something other than college. In 50 Alternatives and his last year’s bestseller Choose Yourself, he maps out ways to succeed in today’s economy. Merging passion and talent can lead to lifelong work for students.
On the other side of the coin, economists Jaison Abel and Richard Dietz recently published a study in the Federal Reserve of New York’s Current Issues in Economics and Finance concluding that college graduates still outearn their non-college peers. There might be several reasons for this, including the fact wages have decreased across the board for both college and non-college grads alike.
College math aside, one fact is simple–I don’t want my students to be among the chronically underemployed.
What should I advise them to do?
Thinking Beyond College: 6 Ideas For Students Graduating Into A New Economy
1. Think and act like entrepreneurs
Have them identify skills and passions and make lists of things they would do if money was no object. Direct them to learn as much as they can. Find out who the leading people are in their fields of interest, and encourage them to read about them, follow them, and connect if possible.
In any given classroom, I have writers, comedians, math geniuses, computer whizzes, physical fitness nuts, fashion queens, artists, and communicators. Teaching students to look outside the “three r’s” at their own personal skills and passions gives them a great head start into the future.
2. Weigh your options–all of them
If students want to go to college, my mantra is, “Let someone else pay.” Before they make their selection, I ask, “What are you planning to do in college?” Students often make college decisions based on emotion and ego. College is a purchase. It must be treated as such. What are the costs and benefits of going? Is it necessary? Are there scholarships or programs like the Reserve Officer’s Training Corps that will pay? Weigh the answers carefully before making the right choice.
3. Support translating passions and skills into work
While college is a tricky choice, it at least gives students 4-6 years to get to know how the world works. Throwing them out into this “real world” without a plan may not be the best we can do. Have career conversations from day one of high school through past graduation.
Students don’t always know how their interests translate into marketable careers.
4. Practice always-on learning
Encourage students to learn online. Teach high-level research skills and digital literacy, and show students how to evaluate sources so they will have the keys to unlimited learning. Practice such things yourself, even when the school year gets crazy. Showing students your own enthusiasm for learning is contagious.
And through this knowledge should come a kind of illumination of previously invisible possibility in the world. Don’t learn for work; learn so that you may choose your work.
5. Brand & market yourself
In today’s digital age everyone has a “personal brand.” Students must attend to this. Done well, this showcases student assets opens the door for great opportunities. When neglected, it slams doors in their faces. Teach students to use the internet to further their professional goals rather than a vehicle for hosting selfies.
There are (literally) countless communities, missions, organizations, and ideas to become a part of through “the internet.” If you’re not involved, you’re not trying.
6. Connect with mentors
Who better to show students the real career world than someone already successful in that career? Students may learn they love–or hate–their prospective careers at a much lower cost than had they waited to finish college then entered the field.
My goal for every student is to see them live a happy life doing something good for the world. I want them to get up every day looking forward to what they do. It’s a gift few people enjoy. It’s attainable with some prior planning–even in this changing economy, and it should be a standard measured by every school.
6 Ideas For Students Graduating Into A New Economy; image via flickr user nasagoddard