Has anyone ever told you that your unique skills, talents and interests are key to a successful career?

Chances are no one ever has. Instead, you may have been led to believe there is only one very specific path to success and it requires good grades in everything and a college degree in anything.

Good grades in everything and a college degree in anything guarantee absolutely nothing. Just ask the many unemployed or underemployed college graduates in today’s job market.

Good grades in everything and a college degree in anything guarantee absolutely nothing.

A degree is not a guaranteed pathway to success. So how do you position yourself (and encourage students to prepare themselves) for high-wage, in-demand jobs?

The author of Redefining the Goal: The Truth Path to Career Readiness in the 21st Century suggests we ask ourselves ‘What can you do well?’ because that is what employers want to know. To be successful upon graduation, students must understand what jobs are available and have the knowledge and skills required to earn those jobs.

“The key is to align your interests and abilities with your first career choice and with the education and training you’ll need to receive,” says Dr. Kevin Fleming, who shares the data behind his assumptions in a viral animation video “Success in the New Economy.”

I heard Dr. Fleming speak recently on the campus of Pennsylvania College of Technology, during the Future Ready Series presented by BLaST Intermediate Unit 17. BLaST is a regional organization that supports education in Bradford, Lycoming, Sullivan and Tioga counties.

Described as “a passionate advocate for ensuring all students enter the labor market with a competitive advantage,” Dr. Fleming states that his mission is to “close the skills gap one audience at a time.”

Closing the skills gap has been a top priority on the Penn College campus for more than 100 years. The Telly Award-winning documentary, “Working Class: 100 Years of Hands-on Education” and a book of the same name – both available for free online viewing – describe that history.

While conducting research for the book and documentary, I learned the campus was the center of a nationally-recognized effort to align education and job requirements following The Great Depression.

In 1938, Occupations – The Vocational Guidance Magazine reported at the Williamsport institution: “Every effort is directed toward maintenance of a constant balance between the jobs open at any one time – or likely to be open in the near future – and the number of persons in training for those jobs.”

Many job openings go unfilled due to a lack of qualified applicants. At the same time, many college graduates are underemployed because they lack specific skills required in a technology-driven economy. Something’s gotta give.

Dr. Fleming asks his audiences to consider the same ideas that inspired Williamsport educators, politicians and business leaders a century ago. His Penn College presentation earned plenty of snaps, as he encouraged those in attendance to snap their fingers whenever they heard facts, figures and ideas that resonated with them.

I found what Dr. Fleming called the “true ratio of jobs in our economy” (1:2:7) to be among the most compelling data he shared.

“For every occupation that requires a master’s degree or more, two professional jobs require a university degree and there are over half a dozen jobs requiring a one-year certificate or two-year degree; and each of these technicians are in very high-skilled areas that are in great demand,” he said.

True ratio of jobs in our economy 1:2:7

Let’s think of it in these terms. We tell high school students that success is defined by a university degree. Yet, in the workplace, there are only half as many job openings requiring those degrees. Twice as many opportunities exist for people who have specific technical skills. There are (in the words of Drs. Kenneth C. Gray and Edwin L. Herr who were featured in a previous Working Class blog) “other ways to win.”

Dr. Fleming, who holds several bachelor and master’s degrees and a Ph.D., said earning an industry credential launched his career, after years of underemployment. It’s not only what you know, it’s what you can prove you know how to do that makes you stand out in a crowd of job applicants today.

In the video “4 Skills and 4 Steps to a Successful Career,” Dr. Fleming speaks simply about the importance of combining academic skills and knowledge, life skills, employability skills and technical skills in order to become workplace ready. This video is worth sharing with high school students, teachers and parents who want to know what it really takes to succeed.

Old ideas that separate “technical” skills and academics simply do not serve students seeking 21st century careers. The use of technology, in the form of computers and equipment, is a job requirement across the board. Advancement in every field demands problem-solving skills acquired in the study of math, science and the humanities.

Employers expect newly hired workers to follow directions, meet deadlines, organize projects, communicate and work well with others. Lessons learned (or not learned) from Kindergarten through high school graduation may determine all students’ chances for success later in life.

“Take your classes seriously and become the strongest reader, writer and thinker that you can be,” Dr. Fleming advises. We need all students (college-bound or not) to be as well prepared as they can be for life after high school.

The challenge for teachers is to make academics relevant for all students by applying real world experiences in the classroom. Every student needs to learn how to overcome challenges, manage household finances and maintain a healthy lifestyle. Incorporating such common experiences into academic subjects will benefit students for a lifetime.

We need all students (college-bound or not) to be as well prepared as they can be for life after high school.

If you are interested in learning more about classes that combine academics, hands-on activities and career awareness, I invite you to check out the Working Class documentary series, produced by Penn College and WVIA Public Media.

Thank you Dr. Fleming, BLaST Intermediate Unit 17 and Penn College for helping educators and students in our region become “future ready.”

NOTE: Photos presented here feature caps decorated and worn by Penn College graduates during their commencement ceremonies in recent years.




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