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How parents can prepare their children for the workforce

Originally posted May 14, 2017.

There are two predominant mistakes that parents make when trying to prepare their children for careers:

  1. Tell their children to just follow their dreams and not let anyone stop them.

This is not inherently wrong, and it is important to teach children to keep working hard and to not give up. Also, parents should teach their children to do something they love doing and not something they hate. But often we take this too far. If you have no athletic ability and no chance of playing professional football, don’t aspire to it and concentrate on it. Because if you do, you may reach adulthood without having worked much on other marketable skills. Also, “passion is not a plan,” as Terri Trespicio says in this Ted Talk, and your emotions can change.

2. Tell their children to seek the career path in which they make the most amount of money possible.

This is often the opposite problem. If your child hates studying law and always will, don’t puse them toward a career they will hate. Plenty of people are earning six figures and are miserable.

Parents should focus on two messages when preparing their children for careers.

Unfortunately, both messages have caveats.

  1. Find a job that you enjoy. Caveat: However, Understand that you may not fully enjoy something after you’ve done it for a while and that you won’t enjoy all aspects of any job.
  2. Study the jobs that will be most available when you’re looking to join the workforce and then choose the one you would enjoy most. Caveat: However, understand that the market can change rapidly and that certain positions that are hot today might not be so great in a few years.

Let’s use an imaginary case study as an example.

Suppose Jane Doe is 17 and considering what to study in college. She enjoys nursing, decorating and design.

The first thing a parent should do is talk about what she enjoys doing. Since she hasn’t had much exposure to any of these fields, take her opinion with a grain of salt. Instead, try to get her to shadow someone on one of these jobs. But understand also that job shadowing someone on a job is still only minimal — better yet, microscopic — exposure to that field.

Next, and probably more importantly, study which jobs will be the most in demand. You can find this out through reputable finance or business magazines or through the Society for Human Resource Management.

Take a look at the positions that will be the most in-demand in the next few years. Suppose that you come up with this:

  1. Medical doctor
  2. IT professional
  3. Attorney
  4. Nursing
  5. Business analyst

(These are not the most in-demand jobs in that order. This is just an imaginary case study.)

Nursing is the No. 4 option, so that’s a good sign for Jane Doe’s career. Now suppose that you also read that decorating and design are not going to be in-demand jobs, and that both are actually highly competitive and low paying. That makes for a very poor combination.

As a parent, it would be wise in that case to steer your child more toward nursing instead of telling them to fulfill their dream.

You want to look for a combination consisting of three factors:

-Salary
-Competition
-Projected growth

Focus too hard on any one of those three aspects, and you’ll be missing the mark.

Today, careers that strike the right balance include speech pathologists, software engineers, and certain types of surgeons.

Positions that aren’t very good at any of these three components include newspaper reporters, loggers, retail salespeople, and advertising salespeople.

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