Opinion

Eddy & Joseph: There Are Many Roads to a Good Career. Parents Must Keep an Open Mind to Help Their Kids Find the Right Path

By Jean Eddy and Jackney Prioly Joseph | January 14, 2019

For many students and their families, conversations about life after high school are stressful. College is what many of us want for our children, but the cost of attending is daunting, if not prohibitive. It’s fair to wonder whether it’s the right next step, particularly when students don’t know what they want to study or how they’ll turn their degree into a stable career that enables them to pay back debt and get ahead.

If you’re nodding along, it’s likely you have a teenager in your household and you’re grappling with these big life decisions. You may have attended college fairs and financial aid seminars but haven’t found much in the way of alternative pathways.

The good news is that there are many different roads to success — some don’t need to run through college, while others may not start there but will eventually take that turn. The challenge for families is learning more about those options and how to pursue them, and getting comfortable with the notion of something different.

Understanding the job market and where opportunities exist is a great place to start. For example, in Massachusetts, there are many middle-skills jobs requiring a high school diploma but not a four-year degree. In fact, the majority of job openings in Massachusetts between 2016 and 2022 are expected to require no more than a good vocational high school education (with associated on-the-job training), with some college or a community college professional credential or associate’s degree.

In other words, companies across a wide range of industries need people — engineering technicians, radiation therapists, dental hygienists, home health aides, nurse assistants, mechanics, building inspectors, and emergency medical technicians — for jobs that don’t necessarily require a college degree but may call for an industry-recognized credential or certificate.

It’s important to talk to your children about their aspirations and goals and the necessary steps to achieve them. They might want to get an internship, a summer job, or a work-based learning position to get a feel for different careers and acquire some of the workplace skills, such as communication and problem-solving, that so many employers say students lack.

We both work at organizations squarely focused on ensuring that students are ready for their future. Our organizations share the goal of introducing students to the many pathways to career readiness and, moreover, to a fulfilling and happy life. In Massachusetts, we thankfully have booming high-wage, high-demand fields like health care, technology, and manufacturing, and partners in schools and businesses who are aligned with this thinking.

At Massachusetts Business Alliance for Education, we’re working to make it possible for students to earn industry-recognized credentials in traditional high schools. We know that earning credentials that are aligned with workforce demand better connects students to future employment and to the relevance of their college education.

At American Student Assistance, we’re empowering kids to explore a multitude of careers at an early age, and making tools available to students where they are already spending their time — online, on their mobile devices, and in classrooms.

Our organizations work to ensure the environment is right for students to learn about and pursue a vast array of career and education options. But no matter how hard we work, there is one force we can’t possibly compete with: parents.

We as parents need to be open-minded about various trajectories and have frank (and frequent) conversations with the young people in our lives about the different avenues to success. Let’s expand our ideas of what life after high school looks like and, in the process, help our kids find their passions and pursue their own pathways.

Jean Eddy is CEO and president of American Student Assistance. Jackney Prioly Joseph is director of career readiness initiatives at Massachusetts Business Alliance for Education.

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