Updated: Oct 14, 2021
How do you help students position themselves for in-demand jobs near the top of the pay scale? The formula is simpler then you think. Unfortunately, many students today see the advertised wages for a given occupation and assume they will earn near the 90th percentile. But without aligning their interests and skills with today’s labor market realities, they will be gravely disappointed.
Initially, you need to help them understand the difference between average wages versus what they can project to earn. Let’s assume a student you know is considering a career as either an electrician or a business manager. Upon some initial research you would find that the average annual income for electricians in California is $51,000, only about half of the $105,000 average wage for management occupations. So, at first glance it looks as if getting a bachelor’s degree in business is a no-brainer. But adding skills and ability into the picture adds a whole new dynamic. What if they have the potential to become an excellent electrician, but lack the skills and ability to be an excellent manager? Then you should help them look at projected incomes towards the bottom of the pay scale for managers and towards the top for electricians. You would then discover that electricians near the top of the pay scale make over $86,000; far higher than the income of a manager near the bottom of the pay scale at $52,000.
Now, this is just one example, but the concept is true throughout all industries. The claim that you will make more money with an increased amount of education is not necessarily inaccurate, it’s just incomplete. That advice is based just on the averages. But no one is perfectly average. Everyone has unique skills, talents, and interests. Truth is, the income for the top people in a wide variety of technical jobs is higher than the average income for many occupations that require a Bachelor’s degree. So, the secret is to ensure one’s career plan is in alignment with not only one’s interests, but also with their personality, abilities, and labor market opportunities.
Here are 4 steps to position today’s youth for a successful career at the top of the pay scale.
First, encourage them to learn about themselves and their talents. Administer a career assessment to really get to know their personality strengths and aligned career interests. Have them ask themselves, “What do I love to do?,” as well as “What am I good at doing?” These are very different questions. Identifying their core talents and skills (not just their interests) will help them select some careers that align with their strengths. “Knowing yourself” is the first strategy to really figuring out what they will be successful at and enjoy doing.
Second, help them to explore all of their possible career options. Today there are over 800 different jobs organized into 15 industry clusters in California (16 nationally). That’s a long list of possible careers. Research the jobs they are interested in and help them to truly understand the education, experiences, and cost required. Don’t just look at the average wage, but examine the wage range and the key traits/skills required to excel. There is a lot of information online, but also encourage them to talk with someone already in that field to learn more. Informational interviews are an invaluable tool to gain both insight and mentors in the field. It is not too soon to find out as much as they can. Identifying those careers in middle school and high school that might align with their personality and interests, and pay a living wage, will help them make better decisions about their first career.
After researching all the possibilities, the third step is to then help them in setting a tentative career goal based on their personality and abilities; and be sure they consider the range of wages in your local area in alignment with what they learned about the labor market. This initial career area of interest is not set in stone. It is just tentative. Ensure they know that it doesn’t have to be what they want to do for the rest of your life; just help them in setting a goal of what they want to do first.
The fourth step is to create a 10-year plan. This plan should include their tentative career goal, the education and training they think they will need, and the realistic steps they plan to take to get there. Having such a plan will help them when they join clubs, pursue an internship, select a college major, start a business, and/or seek employment. Also, be sure to help them make both a Plan A and a Plan B. Setbacks are inevitable! It’s how one responds to these challenges that matter. Help them develop strong coping skills and learning how to work well in teams. It is important they be able to pivot quickly and persevere down an alternative path towards their goal when obstacles arise.
Help students to take a personally assessment, research all the different career clusters, set a tentative career goal, and then draft a 10-year plan. It’s not complicated, and we know this flexible approach works. That is how you help position your students for a high-wage career in a field they will love.