The New Economy and Career Readiness: Part II

Mosaic

A mosaic has many small pieces that add up to a single coherent work. Similarly, the new economy has many job opportunities in all the key sectors of the economy, adding up to a complex but coherent local, national and international economic picture.

The question “Where are the job opportunities in the current economy?” does not have a quick, neat answer.  More than ever, the economy is fluid, with new opportunities always emerging.  The current economy provides a mosaic of career opportunities. 

While there are many well-defined career paths and many familiar jobs and job titles, there are also many jobs and career paths that are new or evolving or flexible.  When we interview people who are in careers they enjoy, we find that many people have careers that evolved over many years, having been shaped by changes in technology, local, national and world economic trends, environmental concerns, and other trends.  Many people are now working in areas very different from the career paths that they started on when they were in high school, college and first jobs.

What are the implications of the new economy for career exploration and career development?  Some of the key themes of successful career development are more important than ever.

1. CAREER DEVELOPMENT IS A LIFELONG PROCESS.

Career development is a lifelong process that begins in childhood and continues throughout high school and beyond. It is important for children, teens and young adults to have a wide variety of enjoyable hands-on experiences in fields like science, art, music, writing, technology, building and engineering, cooking, gardening, nature study, volunteering, teaching others, organizing events and activities, working with communications and media, etc.  These experiences can lead to lifelong personal interests as well as potential career interests. Without this type of experience, it is hard for young people to know  what types of careers they might be interested in.  With this type of experience as background for career exploration, it is exciting for young people to realize the wide range of exciting career opportunities that tap into their interests and passions.

While younger children need lots of enriching experiences, not necessarily tied explicitly to career exploration, high-school-age youth need to start to more explicitly read about and hear from others about potential career interests, find out what skills and credentials are important in various career areas, and begin to seek out experiences that will open doors to these careers areas.  By the end of high school, youth should be ready to take first steps toward their future career, with the recognition that career development will also be a lifelong process, with continuing opportunities to gain skills and shape a successful career path.

2. IT IS ESSENTIAL TO KNOW YOURSELF WELL.

More than ever, it is important for youth to begin a career with a strong sense of their own interests and career values.   Questions to consider include: What skills do you hope to use – such as a chance to use writing and communication skills, math skills, athletic skills, mechanical skills, leadership skills?  Do you hope that your career provides you with a comfortable lifestyle,  intellectual challenge, creative expresssion, or a visible leadership role?  Are you attracted to careers in healthcare, science, engineering, law, government, etc.?  Do you picture yourself working with plants, animals or nature? Do you picture yourself working in a skilled trade?  Do you picture yourself owning and managing your own business?

It is also important to have a chance to learn that there are many ways of experiencing these career values.  For example, there are many styles of leadership and many different career paths that exericse leadership skills in different ways.  Or, for example, there are many ways of expressing creativity and many different career paths that exercise creativity in different ways.  Similarly, there are many ways of expressing a variety of career values, including careers that help others, careers that are entrepreneurial, careers that are intellectually challenging, or careers that use hands-on skills.

3. CAREER DEVELOPMENT IS BEST DONE WITH OTHER PEOPLE.

Youth can start learning about careers through books, magazines and websites, but should be able to complement this exploration with lots of interaction with other people. There are many aspects of the workplace that are hard to capture in writing – such as the latest trends in an industry, new and emerging job titles, and the real atmosphere of the workplace.  Youth should have opportunities to talk with a variety of professionals to find out about their careers, hear guest speakers, experience job shadowing, and perhaps participate in mentoring programs. Youth should also have opportunities for first-hand experience through volunteer work, jobs and internships.

If you are an employer, what are some of the ways that you would enjoy connecting with students in local schools?  If you are a coordinator of a youth employment program or career exploration project, what kind of information, exploration and experiences are you interested in offering to youth in your programs?  If you are a young adult (or a parent of a young adult), what are your next steps in exploring your career interests and career options? 

The new economy offers new challenges for career exploration and career management, but is also an exciting and dynamic environment for bringing people together to explore interests, reflect, and learn about existing and emerging opportunities.

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