How can we — as parents, educators and adult mentors — inspire students to stay on course for greater job satisfaction?

I recently read an American Psychological Association article that relates an old tale to a report that suggests only 30% of Americans feel engaged at work, while the other 70% “are more likely to steal from their organizations, negatively influence co-workers and drive customers away.”


As the tale goes, three bricklayers are asked to describe their work. The first says, “I’m putting one brick on top of another.” His focus is on the task. The second says, “I’m making six pence an hour.” His concern is pay. The third says, “I’m building a cathedral.” He is invested in the outcome of his labor.


Like the bricklayers who described work as a task rewarded by pay, people whose jobs do not connect with their personal interests often end up adrift in a sea of negativity.

“The word ‘adrift’ connotes visions of floundering, uncertainty, lack of control, and ultimate peril … It accurately describes a large percentage of today’s high school students … whose aspirations and postsecondary plans are inconsistent with both their high school academic records and labor market projections,” according to Kenneth C. Gray and Edwin L. Herr in Other Ways to Win: Creating Alternatives for High School Graduates.

There is no one-size-fits-all plan for success. The authors urge parents, educators and mentors to challenge students to carefully match their interests and aptitudes with relevant career data, to prevent them from being “disappointed or even scarred by their experiences.”

“The purpose of education is to show a person how to define himself (herself) authentically and spontaneously in relation to the world.”

By listening to youthful aspirations and sharing information about careers that are in line with personal interests, we may encourage success now, in the classroom, as well as later in the world of work. Teaching students to see connections between their school work and the careers they would like to pursue can inspire them to work harder to meet their academic challenges.

Thomas Merton said, “The purpose of education is to show a person how to define himself (herself) authentically and spontaneously in relation to the world.” As they develop academic and career plans, students benefit a great deal from the guidance of adults who can help them to fit their plans into a larger, 21st century world view.

Cover of What We Do for a Living 2014.
2014 employment report

Let’s be real. The growth of information and technology has forever changed the world of work. To help students connect personal interests with viable career options, it is important that we set aside outdated ideas and experiences, of our own or prior generations, and look at real, current data.

Labor and industry projections, such as those reported in What We Do for a Living in the Commonwealth of Pennsylvaniaare important resources we can use to determine the kind of skills employers are seeking and to consider what are predicted to become the fastest growing occupations in the near future.

Cover of 1940 survey.
Depression era report

Inspired by a 1940 survey known as “The Williamsport Plan” — which led to a nationally-recognized effort to combat unemployment following the Great Depression — Pennsylvania College of Technology published the current employment report to confirm the college’s continuing commitment to connecting education and workforce needs.

Penn College and WVIA Public Media are proud to celebrate classrooms and learning experiences that combine academics with career awareness, technology and hands-on activities. A new Working Class film documentary series, with companion online video and resources for classroom and homeschooling activities, highlights activities taking place in our region.

As an executive producer of the series, I encourage you to use these resources as you advise young people about their education and career paths. I also invite you to follow Working Class on Facebook and Twitter and to e-mail workingclass@pct.edu if you would like to see your classroom featured on a future episode of Working Class.

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