In Careers

Creating Multiple Career Path Options

As my two daughters approached their High School graduations, they were constantly asked a simple, but biased question, “What college do you plan to attend.”
the United States has dramatically increased the focus on all students attending college after graduation from High School.

This is a wonderful goal, and yet it can also cause negative consequences. Many of the friends of my daughters did not plan to go college upon High School graduation. For many of them, college was out of reach. For others college, at least the traditional image of four-year college, was not the best option for them.

As a nation we have systematically stigmatized all career paths that do not result from a four-year college path and yet studies are now showing that college does not automatically mean a solid career path. Even more disturbingly, almost 6 million young adults in our country have found themselves in a nowhere-land where they are neither getting a college degree nor working (visit https://opportunitynation.org/ for more information).

Our focus on college for everyone, although well-meaning, has caused a problem not only for young people but also for workplaces that are facing severe shortages of employees. For example, the skilled trades find their career paths stigmatized, despite their well-paying prospects, resulting in shortages of qualified workers.

How does this impact Wright County? I recently spoke to Jessica who summed up the problem by talking about the lack of information on alternative career paths. She pointed out that instead showing young adults the many different options for becoming engaged, working citizens, young people are shown the option of college as the only legitimate option. Yet, as Jessica points out, her friend, who works on electrical lines, makes far more money after 18 months of education than many college graduates. She wonders why these careers are not promoted.

The stories of young people who lack career options and of small businesses who cannot attract qualified employees is why I believe we must change this conversation. Instead of focusing on meritocracy and college for all as though we only care about our top performing career positions, we must provide young people with multiple career path options. This is why I support funding that helps career counselors and provides them with the resources they need to engage all students.