Find your way after high school
Knowing your options will help you get on the right career path
Your high school career is coming to a close, so what comes after that?
There is no one right answer because everyone is different and there are nearly as many kinds of jobs as people.
Explore and assess
What students can do right now, however, is “explore” what is out there, according to Carey Walker, director of admissions at Great Bay Community College.
“Most students only know about a small portion of the career opportunities that are available to them,” she said. “Colleges have so many options for majors and they can be obscure. What is a Surgical Technologist really?”
Noting there are many career interest assessment tools, Walker said all institutions within the Community College System of New Hampshire feature a career coach on their respective websites. This tool, she said, connects interests with majors and regional career options so students can see “what you like to do, what your major should be, and what you will get paid to do it.”
“You should talk to people about what they do at their job, what is their title, and how they get there,” she added. “I always encourage students to read course descriptions in the college catalog. You may realize that all of the courses within a specific discipline sound really interesting but the major isn’t one you considered before.”
In working with students to explore their career options, Richard Paiva, director of technical studies at at Milford High School & Applied Technology Center, said he focuses less on helping them find the right fit than on developing the ability to manage themselves. He said this emphasis is necessary because no one today is entirely sure what career options will exist 10 to 15 years from now.
“There will be jobs in things we never even heard of,” he said. “If you think about it, a social media manager did not exist 20 years ago. What we want is for kids to embrace change, because that ‘right fit’ will change a lot.”
Al Lawrence, owner of Artisan Electric in Dover, agrees with Paiva, and added that more choices for students come with several caveats.
“Even though students have more choices than anyone before them ever had, they don’t really have any idea what those opportunities really are all about,” he said. “Maybe more importantly, students don’t know what might be fulfilling to them.”
Career and Technical Education
For Lawrence, what may fulfill many students is unfortunately not as well known to them based on a stigma that generally surrounds what is referred to “the trades.”
“I’m a big advocate for the trades, which is why I challenge the historic view of them,” he said. “There are so many opportunities in the trades with some involving getting your hands dirty and others behind a desk, but they are for the most part well-paying jobs and interesting…Many students today simply have a misconception about what is available to them in this broad industry.”
Citing “a massive skills gap” in today’s workforce and available jobs, Lawrence said Career and Technical Education (CTE) centers, generally available to juniors and seniors, represent a great “first step to explore possible careers.”
“There are so many opportunities in the technical, skilled, health and service sectors, but there aren’t enough people to fill them,” said Lawrence, who serves as treasurer for SkillsUSA NH.
SkillsUSA NH, with more than 600 members statewide, promotes the importance and relevancy of CTE.
“I love the career I am in, and I get to work with some of the latest advancements in technology,” he added. “If you are a student today and unsure about going to college, there are some exciting opportunities in the trades, construction, manufacturing and technical sectors. You can make a lot of money, too, with the right training.”
For students who feel that a four-year college does reflect their particular interest, however, Walker cited the relevance of CCSNH.
New Hampshire’s community colleges
“We have spent a lot of time making sure that our programs align in such a way that students can adjust their academic path without adding additional time onto their degree or completing courses that aren’t necessary,” she said. “We have clustered our degrees into Academic Focus Areas in which students can easily move between while deciding on a path.”
She said CCSNH schools also look at gateway courses within each discipline and monitor individual student’s successes. If students are not successful in an introductory course, they may want to rethink their path sooner rather than later.
“Students can also rest assured that if a CCSNH School is offering a program, then there is a need for it in the workforce,” she added. “Our programs are influenced by the current workforce needs as well as long-standing programs being updated and adjusted to meet the needs of industry.”
Doug Cullen, manager of career services at Pinkerton Academy in Derry, said industry needs should play a large role in helping decide “what is next,” but students should also “try out their interests experimentally.”
Try it out
“With unemployment at an all-time low, industry is opening its doors to students in a variety of ways,” he said. “There’s no greater feeling than taking a risk on a dream and having it pay off.”
He said there are also few greater frustrations for someone than ending up in an occupation or college major he/she does not like with the knowledge that other choices could have been explored prior to graduation.
“Think about what you like in your life and what subjects you might enjoy — focus on that and your skills,” he added.
Lawrence agreed and said these skills are more than just technical.
“There are soft skills we look for in the workplace — things like ability to communicate, work as a team, think critically,” he said. “Succeeding in a career will rest on developing those skills, too.”
Dr. Ross Gittell, CCSNH chancellor, said the development of these soft skills positions students for not just one kind of job, but many, as they apply to a wide range of industries. He said their importance may be gleaned from students’ own experiences as consumers.
“You want a good product, but you also want good customer service — whether it is at a store, through texts or social media,” he said. “The skills that go into good customer service — communication and problem-solving as examples — are ones you want to develop yourself.”