I'm great at my ABC's - should I be a file clerk?
Updated: Jan 25
We expect our youngsters to make decisions that will impact the rest of their lives when
they are 13 and 14 years old before they are ready, and without adequate preparation and support. Many corporations, service organizations, etc. establish partnerships with schools to provide support to students in their communities, but they tend to do it without looking at the youngsters individually to see how they can best support that particular child.
I first encountered the conundrum of the “I do it well; therefore it is what I should do” – technique of career planning, when I ran a management development program at Prudential. I recruited candidates and was responsible for their professional development for the five years they were in the program. One young man was an accounting major, who had interned in corporate accounting departments every summer of his college years. When he came to the program, I assigned him to an actuarial systems position in New Jersey. This was his first assignment and I believed that he would be comfortable in a situation that would utilize his current skills, while learning new ones.
The next year, I assigned him to a marketing support position in an Atlanta sales office. He was concerned. He told me that he was great analytically, but did not possess the interpersonal or creative skills needed for this new position. I explained to him that I did not think his self-assessment was accurate, but that it was my job to give him the support required for him to succeed, so he should not worry.
When I went to visit him in the second month of this assignment, he told me that he had learned more about himself in those two months than he had learned in his whole life. He said that he discovered that he was great interpersonally and that he was very creative. He loved his marketing position and ultimately left the program in order to pursue that career.
The young people I worked with in the management program attended great schools and had wonderful opportunities and yet they still did not know what truly ignited their passion. So many of these young people ended up on a totally different career path than they originally envisioned. This program forced them to go outside their comfort zone – “I am good at numbers, so I must be an accountant” to be placed in positions and therefore gain perspectives that they would not otherwise have had – “I’m great interpersonally and I’m very creative”. These young adults at Prudential had focused on one thing they did well and based all of their career aspirations on that microscopic view of themselves.
Later as a volunteer for the Teen Achievers program at a YMCA, I talked with high school juniors and seniors about their post high-school academic/career aspirations. They expressed frustration at the lack of direction they found when it came to knowing what courses to take or even what they might want to do after high school. They agreed that it would have been helpful to have guidance earlier than junior or senior year of high school. Most were seniors and expressed frustration at feeling unprepared for the future. Many felt lost and unsure of what steps to take after graduation. They felt that whatever career support they were given came too late. I believe that we should address this problem by helping youngsters to determine career interests early enough to make sound academic choices to support them in high school.
We can educate, we can support, we can do many things, but unless we expose youngsters to new perspectives, they do not know the possibilities that exist for them. If we assess the preferences of youngsters when they are young enough to find direction, but old enough for it to be meaningful they may just discover their passion – their career. Let’s face it most of us are “good” at our ABC’s, but does that mean that we want to spend our lives filing?
“Students who have identified their likes, dislikes, aptitudes, and interests are able to begin the task of determining how education and work requirements relate to their personal situations. By exploring career and educational options, middle school/junior high students are better prepared to develop tentative career and educational plans for high school” (Center for Occupational Research and Development, 1999, p. 20)
Many of our schools shelter the next Katherine Johnson, Emeril Lagasse, Sonia Sotomayor or IM Pei, but not all of our children know these career possibilities exist. When young people understand themselves and their preferences it helps them to discover possibilities by enabling them to determine their personal motivators.
We use tools to guide displaced adults to new careers. We sometimes use interest inventories for juniors or seniors in high school, but for most kids that is too little too late. The teen years are difficult. It is a time when one is neither a child nor an adult – and it is a time when direction can mean the difference between new hope for the future and no hope for the future.
We developed this program to help students understand their preferences and guide them towards the passion that will ignite their desire to learn and begin their personal career discovery journey.