High School Graduation is upon us

Almost every school in the country is preparing the grounds, programs, and diplomas for this year’s batch of graduates.  There will be speeches, scholarship awards, and  recognition of the best and brightest.  This is an incredibly busy time for not only the students, parents, teachers, but also school administrators.

What we often forget is that this is an incredibly scary time for the graduates.  We are asking 17 and 18 year old kids to choose a pathway that can have long lasting ramifications for life.  This is a huge decision and it seem almost unfair to ask them to make this kind of life altering choice at such a young age.  I am still not really sure what I want to do when I grow-up at 45 -years of age and asking a 18 – year old to make a choice simply because compulsory education has ended is really tough.

That is why so so many students go off to college only to come home in a year.  Or they change there major three or four times not really sure what they want to do.  Many end up in career paths byaccident not by choice.  Some are so paralyzed by the decisions after high school they make no decision at all and moms and dads force them to either get a job or get out!  We do such a poor job helping kids through this process and have really employed some old thinking in regards to careers and career pathways.

Going to college and matriculating to a degree…any degree would almost guarantee employment 20-30 years ago. It would also for the most part guarantee some economic stability.  Today not only are those statements not necessarily true — the amount of student debt is often crushing when compared to the starting salaries of some professional jobs.  The choice to go or not go becomes significant in this knowledge driven economy and our kids feel that pressure.

Our institutions (schools and colleges) are slow to change even when the world around us is changing ever so quickly.

Consider some of these interesting tidbits……

65% of the kids in preschool will work in jobs that have not been created yet.  We are preparing kids for jobs that have not even been created is mind blowing on lots of levels.  That is one reason why I am such an advocate around critical thinking and reasoning skills not rote memorization or simple recall. I really have a hard time insisting kids regurgitate information that is easily accessible on any smartphone — but many of our schools still teach this way, and really fail to prepare kids to be nimble intellectually, to find their passions,  and be creative.

Just a mere 10 years ago the following jobs did not exist —  Data Mining Managers, Social Media Managers, Chief Listening Officers, Telework Coordinator,  Cloud Services Manager,   Data Scientist, IOS developer, Android Developer, Elder Services Coordinator, Medical Biller/Coder, Zumba/Yoga or Pilates instructors, Privacy Officers, Sustainability Expert, Web Content Strategist….etc….all of these jobs did not exist a decade ago and have had exponential growth over the past few years.

So what does a student study to become a Telework Coordinator or a Sustainability Expert?  How do kids even know these jobs exist?  What they might pay?  What part of the country or planet might they work?

For those going into traditional fields like Medicine, Law, Engineering or Teaching it makes sense in my mind to attend college on a traditional pathway.  But so many other jobs do not have a traditional pathway but often include a combination of advanced training, apprenticeships, some college or even trade schools.

Before the age of 40 workers will hold at least 10 different jobs and the average over a lifetime is 15 different jobs.  It is rare that today’s graduates will enter the workforce with one company that will see them to retirement.  In this ever changing knowledge economy, we often change jobs and/or careers.  The average time spent in any one job today is 4 years.  Gone are the days someone comes into a company and 30-35 years later retires from the same company.  Not only will the company change but it is unlikely the employee stays that long.

This brings me back to the batch of this years graduates who are standing on the precipice of their future should maybe take a step back and consider all the options they have in front of them.  Identify what they are really really passionate about, let them explore those options either in college or via other pathways.

We cannot be so rigid and traditional to think one way is the best in today’s world.  College is simply not for everyone and the college degree although still worthwhile it may not be what everyone needs to be successful.   What we do know is schools need to prepare kids how to think critically, accept change, be nimble, use information and not simply be a human smartphone if they are to find success in this ever-changing world.


About James Herrholtz

Consultant, Teacher, Coach, Administrator for over 23 years. I have been a superintendent of schools, College Instructor, and worked at the Ohio Department of Education heading up the Division of Learning.
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