TED Conversations

Scott Goodman

This conversation is closed.

" I don't know what I want to do after high school." (and that's the way they like it!)

North American high schools do a lousy job of guiding students towards self-awareness and any truly useful understanding of their possible future career choices.

Educators spend more time terrorizing teens with STD videos than they do in career discovery, aptitude and personality testing.


If the young are confused and scared about their future, they're easier to shoehorn into poor jobs that don't suit them. Heyyyyyy, I think we have a blue vest in your size!

Share:
  • thumb
    May 10 2012: There is a book that comes to mind about this topic - its called 'What Color is your Parachute' and its a guide to help people discover their career calling. The book is my Richard Bolles and encourages people to do a process of self-discovery to identify skills, talents, and passions before looking for a job.

    The fact is that most 17-18 year olds are not ready to put serious consideration into what their contribution will be to the world. They've been programmed from an early age to go along with the regularly scheduled program. Many are just going to university thinking that it will prepare them for some sort of job in the future.

    Finding a career fit is often a process of discovery. By the time many people have some idea of what their contribution to the world can be, they are already locked into a career and it requires a monumental effort to break free.

    It isn't practical advice, but I would tell young people to hold off on creating life-long obligations (family, children, etc) until they are on the path to a fulfilling career. If you hate your job - don't start a family. People who are miserable for 10 hours a day at their job will come home and make their families miserable.

    For every high school/college graduate, when they cross the stage, they should receive their diploma and a copy of 'What Color is Your Parachute'. They may not read it today. They may not read it tomorrow. But at some point in the future when they realize that a fulfilling career isn't as simple as a diploma, they may pick it up and begin a journey to finding their career nirvana.
    • thumb
      May 10 2012: I'm with you on that, Robin! I've bought three copies of Bolles' amazing book over the years. I've wisely invested hundreds of hours in his self-discovery exercises.

      I agree with you about holding off obligations until people get their legs under them. When my 19 year-old second cousin announced that he was going to be a dad and a husband, I nearly cried in front of him.

      I am neither a husband/life partner, nor a father, yet I still find large changes in career direction to be disruptive and difficult! How do people with kids at home, car loans, and mortgages do it?!?
  • thumb
    May 10 2012: Hi Scott, I do agree that we need more well-informed education on careers advice for young people but I'm torn as to how assertive we need to be with it and when. I feel strongly that children should enjoy their childhood before the responsibility of adulthood and careers descends. I recently interviewed a series of students for their Year 8 (12 and 13 years old) options at our school. I was horrified when I asked one boy why we wanted to choose History for a subject and he replied 'It will look good on my CV (resume) for my first job!'. Getting children ready to consider what they enjoy the most in school (what really drives them) is far healthier than teaching them about what current jobs already exist and expecting them to choose. Partly because for many very young children what they will end up doing hasn't been invented yet. Portfolio careers are going to be standard in the future for many adults so what I believe matters the most is getting them to really know what they are passionate about and supporting this wholeheartedly. As educators, I believe we are duty bound to release well-rounded, articulate and yes, passionate people into the workforce. This ultimately best benefits society and the individual . Achieving this links to your self-awareness point which I think is exactly what we need to be focusing our efforts on.
    • thumb
      May 11 2012: Stuart;

      You're right: Through enjoyable discovery, let's help people find their 'hotspots of passion' within them. I am convinced that there is a strongly positive correlation between our passions and the general skills sets needed to celebrate those passions.

      Let their passions go this way and that, ebb and flow, expand and shrink. It's all good! We can still try to discern what the underlying skills groups are for each learner. Every time. As often as needed.

      Because occupations can be given to dramatic change within a decade, we should focus for as long as possible on the kids' 'constellations of skills' that nourish their passions. As late as possible, those skills sets should be crystallized and applied to the appropriate occupations of that time. Ladies and gentlemen, start your portfolio careers!

      Naysayers will argue, "Hey! What if I change again AFTER I'm in an occupation?" Then change occupations, I would say. The passion-prospecting process will have gotten you a lot closer to the skills needed for your dream job, or at least to a job with a more reasonable measure of satisfaction.

      Penny-pinchers will argue: "Who's going to pay for the costs of all this assessing?" Let's just deduct it from the billions saved by reducing mental and physical workplace disability claims, fraud, workplace sabotage, harassment claims, goldbricking, bill-padding, negligent performance, complacency, workplace absenteeism, and the resulting family strife. I'm pretty sure that our economies will come out waaay ahead!
    • thumb
      May 11 2012: By the way Stuart...

      I too am horrified for that resume-obsessed teenager! Who told him that history would be of any help???? ;-))
  • thumb

    R H 30+

    • 0
    May 10 2012: I feel you are absolutely correct. But it's not just the schools that are ineffective in guiding the youth towards realistic self-discovery, it is the lack of skills in families to guide their own children that contributes to this very significant problem also - in my opinion. We hide behind 'personal freedom to decide' in our neglect to really assist those with no experience in the world, no experience making life decisions and their consequences, and no experience in any work field to 'make the choice' (or lack of one) of a career path. We send them off to college to 'find themselves' - which basically amounts to the contacts they're exposed to deciding for them. This 'lottery' of self-discovery leaves many poorly disposed. There are exceptions, of course, but like a bell-curve result. Then, in adulthood, they finally face 'who they're not' and seek many remediation techniques like aptitude tests, therapies, or religions to find out who they are. or, they become frustrated and turn to drugs, alcohol, divorce, or crime because they realize 'they're not happy or as successful' as they want to be. This lack of direction of youth is a major, major problem in my view. It is destructive, inefficient, and very expensive - again, in my opinion.
    • thumb
      May 11 2012: RH;

      You took the words out of my mouth! Some of your comments reflect what I was trying to convey. If we (including the youth) are really "free", then we should be free to choose what's right for us through self-discovery, not the "discovery" (more like a limited display or presentation) of a few options exemplified by the few contacts they're exposed to deciding for them. People are more likely to find someone else's idea of an ideal future at college. That is, college is just more conformist b.s. - slightly more sophisticated than in high school.

      How can we say that we live in free societies when many of us spend a half of our waking weekday hours doing work at jobs that we feel trapped within? That's freedom?!? The freedom to ensnare ourselves in debt nets, thus forcing us to continue working in poorly-chosen fields of endeavour. In simplistic terms of economic productivity, a million lousy person-job fits out there leads to a lower quantity and quality of output, disability, and complacency. I don't know about your area, but here in Alberta (Canada), the biz gurus and news anchors occasionally trot out huge and scary numbers about the "costs" of workers calling in sick.

      From a very young age, we have to do a far better job of helping people discover their passion in life. We often have passion for what we're good at. So understanding our passions could lead to a more objective and concrete skills definition. If our assessments change a dozen times as we mature, then so be it! But what we're doing now is not generative of freedom, but it is the cause of enormous misery. And probably low productivity and complacency on the job.
      • thumb

        R H 30+

        • 0
        May 11 2012: Ditto. Big big big problem of neglect. I wonder if there's a study on the costs for career remediation because of dissatisfaction - within a country? Loss of productivity (how could you measure it?), employee turn-over, happiness quotient, economic benefit loss as a result of mis-employment, book and seminar costs, therapy costs, costs of family disfunction, generational legacy costs? And we think war is expensive...
  • thumb
    May 10 2012: Many people just don't make those shifts towards fulfilling work Scott. They remain in unfulfilled careers with the idea that someday - once the kids are grown and the house is payed off, they'll pursue their passions. Most never get around to doing it.

    It isn't to say that career shifts with family and financial obligations are impossible - people do it every day. However, it does raise the stakes and any errors made during the process, the consequences are endured not only by you, but also by your family. The prospects of having family and children suffer for the sake of personal fulfillment is a little too scary for most people so they remain in not so great jobs.

    I understand - I wouldn't have taken my own journey if I had a husband and kids. Not having financial obligations to others has allowed me to take some extraordinary risks. In those extraordinary risks I discovered a career pathway that I love.

    No rain, no rainbow. I am thankful everyday for the risks and hardships that I endured because I could not have found my career calling without them.
    • thumb
      May 11 2012: Robin;

      You've found your path? That is excellent, and I am happy for you! It also gives me hope. I haven't had an awful time in my work life by any means, but I want and deserve even better.
  • thumb
    May 10 2012: Perhaps that s not a bad thing. I have met some very mature 17 year olds and some I want to forget that they were actually allowed to graduate. One religion encourages student to go on a mission after school. This serves the church and allows the student to mature prior to have making the "career" desisions. I feel that this has some merit.

    Educators have lost control. The government is rapidly taking control of curriculum. This is done by saying do it my way or I withdraw funding. In the US Arne Duncan has stated he wants the federal government to write all syllabus, tests, and text books. This year he has mandated Common Core Curriculum .... or lose funding.

    We have continually lowered the standards to graduate those who would not have made it under other standards. We are paying for those errors now. Some states have linked the students grade with the teachers evaluation. That almost guarenties that the teachers will be teaching the test. Period. You think kids are confused now wait until that starts.

    We think in terms of college or nothing. Tech schools are a great thing. Nothing wrong with a local community college. Nothing wrong with an apprenticeship to test the water.

    In summary (after much rambling) I can't blame all of this on the schools. Interference at the state and federal levels in the education process has caused great harm. The first step in healing is to regain control at the local level. All of the best. Bob
    • thumb
      May 10 2012: Thanks Bob!

      I'm glad that you brought the mission idea up! I have - like many Canadians - a strong preference for a secular society and education system. But the idea of giving ALL of our youth a chance for a couple of years overseas has tremendous merit, I agree. I would even support loans and tax incentives (transferable to parents if the kid is a dependent) to get young peoples' butts into airplane seats after high school. The message would be: 'go teach English or French for a while, or volunteer for a poverty relief activity. Stay away from Mom and Dad's basement and grow up for a year or two, and we'll use tax breaks to make it worth your while when you come home.'

      Public education has been politicized (corrupted) here too. It seemed like about 10% of students got A's in my day. To hear my nephew talk, it sounds like 50% pull A's: we can't stand in the way of university for anyone, I guess.

      You are right too in that not everyone needs a 4-year degree from a pedigreed university. Lots of graduates of 2-year technical diplomas do very well, and they have two more years of earning potential.
  • thumb
    May 10 2012: A book comes to mind "rethinking America" by Hedrick Smith regarding how the U.S. does a poor job of this in comparison to Japan, Germany this subject.

    What I see is that the culture has changed so much that the students don't appear to think in terms of what they want to do. The demand for careers is driven out of the country because of government impediments to business and the students intuit this and become frustrated even though they are not sure about what.

    Another aspect is that the idea of exchange is more of a novelty than a learning process. In no small part because of entry level jobs either being eliminated because of minimum wage laws or regulations or illegal immigration or off shoring.

    I guess I'm saying I think your perspective is too small to get a clear picture of the problem.
    • thumb
      May 10 2012: Thanks Pat!

      There's definitely some food for thought in your comments. I will download Smith's "Rethinking America" to include in my summer reading.

      It is sad to think that young people sense an apparently hopeless and hapless job market ahead!

      A favour to ask: Please help me to understand your sentence in the third parapraph, "... the idea of exchange is more of a novelty than a learning process." To what is "exchange" referring?

      Thanks again Pat.
      • thumb
        May 10 2012: Actually Canada is doing better because of the efforts of Paul Martin on debt.

        The idea of exchange is something people learn from working, they exchange work for money. With a nanny state this idea doesn't get implemented because they do things like 99 weeks of unemployment which encourages a person not to work, or government jobs that require little work (usually at the fed level) little accountability and least of all any exchange. Once you get past rule of law and national defense what would the average person be willing to exchange with the government for? You might say teaching but then it would be far better attended to in the private sector and necessary attendant exchange unlike the union jobs with tenure after a few years with teachers that cant be fired and grossly overpaid administrators.
        • thumb
          May 10 2012: Thanks for the clarification Pat! I'll definitely give Smith some time this summer.
  • thumb
    May 10 2012: In my experience, students throughout their schooling think about career possibilities, regardless of the occupations of their parents. Schools increasingly want all children to think of a college education in their futures and not to track themselves early into specific career paths. About ten years ago when I taught 8th grade in a big city school system, one of my classes consisted entirely of students who were performing below grade level in the subject I taught. On the opening day when I wanted to get to know kids, I asked everyone to raise their hands if they are planning to go straight to college after high school. Every hand went up.
    I said that was important for me to know, because it told me what we needed to get done together that year. They had told me we were a college preparatory class. (It would have been anyway. I was just looking for buy-in up front)
    It is not about wanting kids to fit into blue vests, but rather the opposite.
    • thumb
      May 10 2012: Are we providing specific and realistic information about occupations? If we are, that's great. Twenty years ago, we made decisions based on vague, naive, and often incorrect assumptions about what a given occupation was like. For example, I know several depressed police officers who feel trapped in largely unsatisfying careers. I also know of two lawyers who, after passing the bar and practicing for a year or two, have quit and have never went back. One of them had wanted to be a lawyer since high school. I'm glad that things are better now!

      Are schools spending some time guiding students towards a greater awareness of their own aptitudes and talents? If highly self-aware students are making reasonably informed decisions about accurate occupational information, then I am happy to be wrong!

      As long as "...going to college..." is no longer a common stalling tactic for high school seniors and students in their first two undeclared years of university. It was for some of us. They are entitled to more self-knowledge much earlier on in life. Not to restrict their options, but to help them focus their efforts towards areas that hold the most promise for them.

      As an educator, perhaps you can help me with some information. People grow and change throughout their lives. Are students guided in their own self-assessing of interests and aptitudes going forward in their futures? I wish a teacher had introduced my class to a book such as Richard Bolles' "What Color is Your Parachute?" early on, taught us how to work through it, and encouraged us to revisit it every five years or so. No one did that for us, but we learned all about syphillis and herpes!
      • thumb
        May 10 2012: As the scope, range, and nature of occupations changes over time, schools that described the nature of the whole gamut of occupations today would be doomed to describe incorrectly what the jobs would be like when students left school. Guest speakers, visits to health career and engineer career fares, and so forth seem to be pretty common. But it is very difficult to convey the day to day feeling of doing a job. Even the job of being a lawyer has tremendous range in what lawyers do. Even kids who spend years in classrooms watching teachers cannot really see what goes on in the teacher's professional life behind the scenes.
        I would say schools do a lot of work in getting kids to set goals and to reflect on the areas where they believe they do well and things they want to improve. This begins in grade school. The idea of having a fixed set of aptitudes and talents is not popular right now, as educators do not want kids to limit themselves on the basis of where they might be at age 9 or 12 or 14. Rather, kids are encouraged to believe that hard work is more important than inborn talent. This is not a myth. Kids who give themselves a chance rather than letting themselves be type-cast according to aptitudes that appear early often bloom late into talents one might not have expected of them.
        • thumb
          May 10 2012: Yes, I heartily agree: pigeon-holing younger people -- even with a positive and well-meaning assessment -- would be a mistake. It would be very important to convey that any such assessment is but a highly tentative 'snapshot'.

          Also, your point about the highly dynamic nature of occupational descriptions rings true. It would be a bit like trying to hit a moving target while standing on a merry-go-round.

          I'm starting to connect these ideas to the more recent mantra of lifelong learning, and the rapid spread of distance education: I'm a strong supporter of both! Keeping education accessible (both psychologically and technically) throughout our adult lives is a way to cope with the fluid nature of both our own abilities, and of the job market.

          Thanks Fritzie !