Meeting the Need for Student Career Development. (Education)

By Petrik, John | USA TODAY, July 2002 | Go to article overview

Meeting the Need for Student Career Development. (Education)


Petrik, John, USA TODAY


IF YOU WERE TO ASK kindergarten students what they want to be when they grow up, you would probably get an answer in less than 10 seconds. Put the same question to a third-grader and the response time would be about the same. However, if you pose this question to a high school student, getting the answer might take three times as long or, more often than not, the student might simply respond, "I don't know."

Why are students the least sure of their future career paths when they are closest to launching their careers? Over the years, middle and high schools have allocated a significant amount of resources--both in time and financial support--to career exploration and guidance, including one-on-one counseling and career-oriented curriculum. Within the last decade, though, budget cuts have had an impact on this important part of the students' education. In many cases, these cuts leave teachers and guidance counselors without the financial support necessary to develop the kinds of programs their students need to explore careers.

This reduction in career guidance services and activities at the middle and high school levels has affected the traditional four-year college experience. After all, most college programs are based on the idea that a youth will enter college with a career in mind and can complete a program in four years. Fewer students today are ready to declare a major or stay with one major throughout their college years.

Look at the number of youths who are entering college and declaring "undecided" as a major because they are unsure of their career paths. While the national average hovers around eight percent, some larger institutions see figures that range from 20% to as a high as 60% of those entering as "undecided." Also contributing to the extended stay are multiple changes in majors as students use their time in college to "find" a career, not educate themselves for one. While exploration of various fields of study is valuable and certainly adds to the breadth of an individual's education, the costs continue to rise annually. Extra years on campus mean thousands more dollars in tuition and an increased amount of postcollege debt.

This decline in career planning reaches beyond the academic world. In today's highly diverse and global economy, new job titles and professions emerge on a regular basis. When students are not aware of the career options open to them, including these up-and-coming jobs, there is bound to be a shortfall in certain industries.

This shortfall has plagued the technology industry in particular. In fact, the Information Technology Association of America predicted that, out of the 900,000 new technology jobs created in 2001, about 425,000 would go unfilled due to a lack of qualified applicants. Although the technology sector has been highlighted again and again as the hot growth industry for this decade and beyond, companies have still experienced difficulty recruiting and hiring employees because they lack the technology degrees necessary to qualify them for these lucrative jobs. With the current uncertain economy, students should take another look at fields that demonstrate such an employment shortfall, including technology. Since many of them may not know about the shortfall or understand the kinds of positions the technology sector supports, the jobs are and may continue to be unfilled.

Despite budget constraints, what can middle and high schools do to ensure that youths are aware of all their career opportunities? How can they work around these obstacles to help make sure students are starting off in the right direction in the area of career development? Given the lack of funding, educators should look to creating more innovative and cost-effective programs. There are many resources, such as colleges and universities, professional societies, and the Internet, that teachers can tap--for little or no cost--to help guide their students through the career maze. …

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