By Polo Munoz, Managing Editor/Publisher
Several months ago, I was at a college and career day at a local high school. I was, like many others that were there, invited to come and share my experiences about my career. I always love these opportunities to share and hopefully inspire one kid as I was inspired as a youth. I asked the several groups I conversed with to tell me what year they were in and the Seniors were the most enthusiastic to identify themselves. Some of them were heading to university, some to college and although some were just looking for a job; most of them were looking for a career that would most fit their skills and their vision for their future. Not surprisingly, many were not sure what skills they had or were needed in the current work environment. I asked them if they knew some one who was working in the profession they were curious about, most of them responded negatively, except for one or two, and they were usually their parents or an immediate family member. I also asked them who was going to give them a reference for the opportunities that were going to come as they faced the next phase of their lives, some had one or two names, but most just stared, in panic. It dawned on them, that during these past 3 plus years in high school, they had not cultivated relationships with their teachers and other adults in their school properly, and now were not sure what kind of references they would get.
In any professional environment, for adults and youth alike, who knows you and is willing to recommend you, is critical. So throughout their primary and secondary education, we must teach students the value of a network. They must be guided to understand that they are a key to their professional success, but their attitude and work, is the magnet to the doors that will open those opportunities. The challenges in the work place have become more complicated, technology has deceived perspective employees into believing that they do not need to learn how to connect with others in situations that are uncomfortable, and many adults are not creating moments that will help a student understand how to approach such situations.
We can not wait until these youth are out in the workforce, by then it is going to be much more difficult. When they get to any post secondary training, they must be able to identify professionals that they can seek guidance from, and it is critical that they know how to approach them.
College and career days are critical for the growth and expansion of opportunity. Schools are able to create a space where industry professionals are welcomed and given a moment to talk to students about their potential careers, not their personal lives. The challenge at times is that many students are not able to truly take advantage of these moments because when an educator talks to them about careers, students hear “job opportunities now, money now.” This can be challenging to a visitor because, especially in high schools, many of these students are already thinking about the money they want to make without developing the skill sets necessary to create those opportunities. I have heard this many times; “hey mister can you give me a job?” This is not a comment coming from a malevolent space, many of these students are facing the pressure from home and in many cases from a society that labels them as coddled or in some tragic cases, the student is facing terrible hardship at home. Usually my response is, “knowing what I do now, tell me what skills you have that will support, expand or create new opportunities for my company.” This helps them start thinking on what they can do, or prompts them to ask themselves what is it that they would be doing, what company may fit better or if they should think about starting their own business in the long term.
Most teens are not awkward, they just don’t know how to approach adults in these types of situations, its unfortunate that we generalize teens so adults can feel more comfortable to blame strained conversations on them. These learning experiences during college and career days are a priceless opportunity for growth. In order to maximize them make sure the adults understand how they should approach the students. These moments are not a time for experimentation or for unintended lessons, these are moments that must be used judiciously and wisely.
The most important lesson for the students participating is to learn how to create opportunity during any meeting. A moment to ask the questions they want to ask, not just the questions they are assigned to ask. In order for this to happen, the educators must give the students time to consider these questions, may be have the teachers talk about their career path. Many teachers have had other lives before being in the classroom and some are living other lives consequently that fulfill their own ambitions not fulfilled in the classroom.
There is no silver bullet to anything, there are only specific solutions to specific challenges and by guiding a student through the process of self-discovery will they find their place in the world that best fits their personality and their skills. I realize this is very complicated, but we have an education system that can be modified to support that work. And… although there is a lot of challenges in the system, it falls on professionals to collaborate to resolve those issues, rather than denegrate the work being done by educational professionals.