A carpenter, an F14 pilot and a veterinarian

A carpenter, an F14 pilot and a veterinarian

Allen Plunkett, President & CEO of Phoenix Staff

These are the things I knew I would be when I grew up – well, at least between the ages of 6 and 11 I determined these would be the right career choices. I didn’t have any career advice or counseling at 11, nobody stepped in and shared “the path” to any of these choices, they simply fell by the wayside and I ended up becoming what I am today, a business owner (and part-time woodworker with 2 dogs and a huge passion for aviation). A few of the professions I wanted when I was younger (these 3 were only a small sampling) could have definitely required a college education. Even though I earned a degree I often think – am I better at what I do because I have one?

The time invested. The MONEY invested. Were they worth it?

When you become a parent, you certainly have a belief that your kids will follow a path that has been designed – graduate from high school, move on to college and get a high paying job. In my own quest to find out what other parents are doing, I got to speaking with a highly respected CIO and friend in Vegas. He has 2 college-age kids, one decided to go and the other did a 2 year college stint and then followed his career passion (game design). This friend of mine, like many other folks I speak to daily, shared with me something that we all know is becoming more and more prevalent. Kids just aren’t seeing a great reason to head to college. Even he said that he is quite certain it will be a wasted effort and they may be better served entering the workforce immediately rather than going to college.

Again, there are careers that demand a college education, a trade school education or at least an education to meet the bar that is set for an entry-level role within the field – no need to worry about those, they aren’t the target of discussion. My son is growing up in an era when people are creating their own industries, their own companies that become wildly successful and who are carving their own paths.

Adding fuel to the college debate, this generation is focused on something vastly different than when my generation and my father’s generation attended college, but we still use the exact same barometer of “do those with a college education make more than those without one?” The answer is “yes”, but do current or future graduates even care as much about that as they did when this became the litmus test for attending or not attending college? I suspect not.

The landscape is simply different today and the desire to be a “lifelong earner” is different as well.

So, if the dilemma is to attend or not attend college and you cannot base it on the earning ability once you graduate, then what is the end motivation? Again, if your career choice dictates college then the decision is made for you – obviously. Back to my example, there are a much higher number of career choices today than it was when carpentry was in my sights (circa 1978) that do not demand a degree. Why is it then, that as a parent I care so much that my kid goes to college? His current career pick – medical paratrooper – definitely is a choice that demands a degree and will require special schooling, but what if he chooses to be a business owner? It would make more sense for him to start that path today at age 12 and fail as many times as he can before hitting pay-dirt (i.e. discovering his real passion) in his mid-late 20’s. Will the 10-15 years of runway give him a better chance at success than waiting to go to business school and learning from someone who has academic knowledge about entrepreneurship versus just becoming one himself? That’s an easy one to answer.

As I read other’s opinions, I am struck by the fact that we are putting much of the onus on the educators to make it happen. Make the college curriculum “fit” what the careers demand and then kids will automatically want to attend or to have the university career placement services engage early with the incoming students to help them craft a plan of attack. This is all awesome and it needs to happen. It must happen. But, not to state the obvious, but we have to start a whole lot earlier than this. Article after article has been written targeted to graduates on how to find a job upon graduation. If I could tell you how many I have spoken to who not only don’t have a resume, but don’t know the first thing about how to go about a job search or how to use a network of friends and family, you will likely not be surprised, but it is not getting any better. When I graduated from college, I launched “Perimeter Career Planning” with a buddy – we would write resumes, do interview preps and help people go through their own rolodexes of contacts to find the people who could help. I figured, who better to help you find a job than a guy who didn’t have one!

If you truly want to prepare your children for their “future” whatever that may be, then be open to the fact that they also don’t know what it looks like – just like you didn’t know. They also don’t know whether college will or will not end up helping them down that path – just like you didn’t know. And finally, the more they are pushed to do it, the less likely (in many cases) they will end up doing it – again, just like you. The advice I received from the gent in Vegas, “use your current network to show your kid how to do that – first and foremost. If they want to be a veterinarian and you know one of those, have them sit down with your kid and talk about what it took for them to make that happen, how much schooling did they need? Is it everything they thought it would be? Do the good days outnumber the bad days? If you had the chance to do it over again, would you choose the same thing?”

What sage advice. He is looking back and seeing what he could have done differently and now sharing it with me before I stumble through it myself. Again, my son wants to be a medical paratrooper. I don’t think I already know one of those, but we live close to an Air Force Base, I know quite a few doctors and I am quite confident that any/all of them would sit down and tell my 12 year old all he would want to learn about what they do, how they do it and give him some real-life knowledge versus Dad saying, “if you want to do that, you better get your science grade up. Oh, and by the way, plan on heading to college if that’s the dream job!”

There are tons of avenues to go down when we talk about college and career readiness and whether the educational system is delivering on what the “promise” is or what we think it “should be”, but at the end of the day, it is going to come down to the perceived value. As parents, my wife and I will do our level best to provide our son with as much context as possible; things like, you gain social smarts that will far outweigh what you have, you gain independence that you won’t otherwise have (as quickly, anyway), you mature (in some cases), you grow your network of contacts, and, by the way, you may learn some things that will help you either choose a profession or further your abilities within the chosen profession. Steering him toward college is our tack, but getting him situated for the broader future is even more of the long-term strategy.

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