'Curiosity is out there'
“Explore, Experience, Excel” -- these are the three words that graced the top of a green and white folder that was placed in my lap as I attended the third and final segment of the Make It: Manufacturing series: the parent information meeting at Urbanrest Brewing Co. I admittedly didn’t have much interest in the folder in front of me until Oakland Schools Technical Campuses (OSTC) representative and Career Guidance Counselor, Angie Haley, started speaking about the plethora of career opportunities that many middle and high school students are dangerously unaware of in the “you must prepare for college” goo that oozes through homes and school halls.
As my attention shifted from murmuring background noise to Angie’s voice, I realized how much I wished this benign green folder had been placed in my lap earlier. In fact, as Angie presented on the importance of career awareness, her very utterance that “by 8th grade, [students] should already have had some career exploration” caused me to whip out my journal and start jotting down notes-- goals even-- for my own career exploration. Like most millenials, I really just started my career exploration in post-grad at age 22, after 4 years of sitting in lectures and being told what I ‘should’ be doing next. The word ‘career’ was always at the back of my mind, guiding me aimlessly towards summer jobs, internships, and counseling in hopes of having an ‘aha’ moment about what I really wanted to do.
This word, ‘career,’ is objectively daunting. If you look up it’s synonyms, less intimidating nouns -- ‘profession,’ ‘job,’ ‘employment,’ and even ‘calling’-- pop up, seemingly describing the same types of situations as does the dreaded word ‘career.’ So why does the word ‘career’ elicit such an aversion in middle, high school, college, and even post-grad students, while ‘profession’ and ‘calling’ have such positive and exciting undertones? My speculation: the word ‘career’ sounds permanent and binding, as if it is an end all, be all landing point. It’s as if a career ‘choice’ is seen as less of a choice than a coercion; pressures and anxieties to succeed -- from parents, teachers, counselors, financial providers, and mounting student debts -- build as students climb up the educational ladder.
But what if it didn’t have to be this way? What if we measured success by fulfillment and happiness in addition to financial security and intellect? What if we followed our curiosities right as they formed, uninhibited by the ‘safest,’ ‘most practical,’ and highest paying careers?
As Angie listed off the “Hot 25” growing career opportunities in “high-demand, high-wage careers for professional trades” (including carpentry, industrial engineering, web development, and all types of manufacturing jobs) that OSTC provides for students, I was filled with a tinge of regret about my own resistance of career exploration-- a resistance that I am certain other students grapple with as they attempt to choose a major, an internship, and ultimately a career path.
As if responding my questions about the ‘hows’ of combating the ever-present fear of the word ‘career’ for students in the future, Angie shared her most potent pieces of advice for students, industries, and parents, stating that “curiosity [to explore these high-demand professions] is out there” and young people “want to be their own people, they’re own entrepreneurs” if we, as an education and support system, give them the chance to pursue their passions. She encouraged parents and counselors to allow their students to “follow their dreams” and learn about “options beyond and/or instead of a 4-year college” track as a more useful and direct form of career exploration.
And the statistics match Angie’s advice; all of the jobs on the “Hot 25” list typically require a high school diploma, Associate’s degree, and/or on-the-job training, but no 4-year college degree or-- here’s the kicker-- mounds of student debt. Median annual wages for these jobs range from $35,672 to $73,154 with, once again, minimal to no student debt to pay off. By 2024, there will be 500,000 plus of these professional trades jobs in Michigan-- and growing.
The trick to having this career knowledge is balancing one’s curiosity and interest with the ‘next steps’ that could be taken in high school. If a 9th grader really pays attention to all of the options they have as a freshman, they could easily plan to go to OSTC by 11th grade to begin to determine if their 'curiosity' has legs. If they are aware that their last 2 years in high school would be ONLY mornings for the core classes and every afternoon they could do something fun-- something that will help them narrow down what they will do to make their own money-- then MAYBE they will become the happy, skilled, community workers that our high demand industries need.
Programs like OSTC educate young students about high-demand, high-wage careers so that they can make more informed decisions about their education paths and career tracks. With career expos and hands-on learning experiences, students are encouraged to follow their existing curiosities which may just lead them to follow their passions, persevere, and create unique and fulfilling careers for themselves. The first step to success? Let your passions drive you; believe in your ideas and throw the ‘what ifs’ to the wayside. With a little bit of curiosity and a lot of motivation-- who knows? You may just be the next big inventor, entrepreneur, or leader that the world needs.
For more information on OSTC and future career events, visit https://www.ostconline.com/about-ostc/calendar