By Steve Freidell
Land Line contributor
You wouldn’t set out on a cross-country haul without a map, so why are you letting your children go off to college or trade school without the foggiest idea what type of career they want and how they will get there?
Putting your kids through college is the second most expensive thing we ever do. Often, kids today will stumble out of high school graduation with no plan whatsoever. Sometimes, they’ll even go two or three years in college without firmly having a major or an idea of what job they will seek after graduation. With college expenses averaging between $15,000 and $40,000 a year, it’s quite an expensive way to figure things out.
Colleges today are big businesses, which love students to stay as long as they like. College used to be a four-year experience; now it’s more like five or six years. To prevent paying thousands of dollars for your young adults’ exploration of career choices, it’s important to get your children thinking about what they want to do with their lives long before they leave for college.
One way to do this is by getting your children involved in a field that they are interested in while they are still in high school. After being exposed to the industry of their choice, they will have a good idea if this function, job, company or industry is what they’re truly interested in. At an early age, talk to your child about career desires.
If you have a daughter who says she’s interested in horses, take her to a local horse stable. Talk about all the jobs at this business. Ask her which one she would want to do. Then ask the owner of the stables to let her volunteer to discover if that is indeed what she wants. Offer to pay her for her volunteerism, just like a job. She will gain tremendous appreciation of the inner workings of the horse training business and what it takes to be successful.
When my son was 16 years old, he came to me one day and announced that he was going to make movies when he finished college. We talked about the need for him to go to college in California in order for him to be successful in this business. We discussed the amount of money it would take to send him to a good school and how our plans had not allowed for that. I told him that if he really wanted to do this, he’d have to get to work immediately.
Since we don’t have many film studios in KC, I tried the next best thing, contacting local TV stations to determine what possibilities might exist. Most general managers informed me that there were no summer jobs in this business. After a long pause I casually mentioned to one: “What if he works for free.”
He started the next day. After hauling heavy lights, setting up equipment, and everything else that goes on behind the scenes of a television production, he emerged experienced, and more resolved in his future career aspirations.
He went on to graduate from college a semester early, and now owns his own business and works as a writer and an editor in Los Angles. Had he simply chosen to accept a summer job with a decent paycheck, he would not have received such a great real-world education. Think of this unpaid volunteer work as an investment that may actually save you tremendous amounts of money and lots of aggravation come time for college.
This method can work for any child. If your son wants to work in automotive design, have him volunteer at any company doing design work. It doesn’t have to be designing cars. If your daughter is interested in nursing or the medical profession, have her volunteer at a hospital. Most business owners are delighted to have a young adult approach them about learning more about their business.
There is usually no limit to what business owners will do to satisfy an eager person willing to learn. Moreover, if one job isn’t of interest, great – you just saved everyone a lot of time and money down the road. Have them volunteer at other jobs until they find something they truly enjoy.
It’s crucial that you begin helping your children to realize their future career aspirations. It teaches them that the best rewards in life are the simple ones right in front of them, and education and attainment of knowledge are the most valuable tools they will ever possess. LL