High school: The first stop on a career path

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Print this page By Brenda DiClemente, CPA

High schools are full of students preparing for college, but are as many thinking beyond the diploma and preparing for a career? A College and Career Readiness multiyear survey, culminating in 2015 and conducted by nonprofit YourTruth, reported that only 49 percent of students believe their school helped them understand the steps necessary to land their ideal career, and just 46 percent of students believed that schools helped them identify which careers match their interest and abilities.

Add to the equation the rising cost of education and student-loan debt. It literally pays to be efficient in pursuing higher education, but it’s difficult to make a beeline for the right education markers when career aspirations are fuzzy. Having a sense of a desired future career before heading to college can help greatly. So, what are area high schools doing to help students develop their interests, and how can we in the business community help them?

High school college and career centers have come a long way over the years. They offer tools and opportunities for students to explore careers. A widely used college and career exploration computer program is Naviance. The career portion engages students in rapid-fire question and answer sessions, gauges interests and matches users to potential career fields, providing descriptions of the careers and education requirements.

School systems also offer vocational programs to introduce professions, and allow students to try their hands at various jobs. Loudoun County’s C.S. Monroe Technology Center and the new Academies of Loudoun offer students the opportunity to explore the fields of science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM). Students attend every other day while taking core classes at their regular high school on alternating days. Prince William County offers Career and Technical Education to prepare students for postsecondary experiences whether those are straight into the workforce, additional technical training or college.

“The program is similar to the old vo-tech, and there’s not a stigma anymore,” said Vicky Campbell, professional school counselor at Patriot High School in Prince William County.
“Classes range from IT to STEM to culinary arts. It’s amazing. They push kids to discover new career passions or help them learn what they don’t want to do.”

Students also can gain valuable exposure to careers through volunteering and internships. Hands-on experience in a field of interest quickly gives students a sense of whether or not they are actually drawn to that type of work and also gives them an appreciation for those who do that type of work on a regular basis. Professionals who take the time to share their experiences with students are doing the important work of giving back to our communities and introducing students to life beyond school. Offering students opportunities to connect with professionals can be incredibly influential to students and may just spark an interest in a career.

The truth about internships, however, is they can be hard to come by, and those that are available are usually reserved for upperclassmen. And from the perspective of the employer, internships aren’t the easiest personnel to manage. It takes a patient, caring manager to engage and supervise interns, explain processes and find appropriate work for the newbie, and it usually doesn’t directly boost the bottom line.

However, it may well be worth the effort. After all, today’s high school intern may be a job candidate a few years down the road. Along with community-minded altruism, our participation in sharing professions with high schoolers may also provide a valuable glimpse in understanding the aspects of our workplaces that are appealing and engaging to the newest generation of the workforce. Focusing on how our workplaces include these attributes may help relate and appeal to new college grads during the recruitment process.

Exposure to professionals inside and outside school can increase students’ career reach for specialized occupations in all fields, including business, finance and accounting, by introducing them to a broad array of career possibilities. By getting involved, those of us in the finance and business community can show students how their efforts in school today can be stepping stones leading to an exciting career well-suited for their individual talents and passions. After all, the intersection of talent and passion is exactly where most of us, regardless of industry, find our career satisfaction sweet spot. Participating in this process — which starts well before college — is an opportunity to stretch students’ possibilities for their life beyond graduation.

Brenda DiClemente, CPA, CGMA is an accountant at SugarOak Holdings Inc. in Herndon and is a member of the Virginia Society of Certified Public Accountants.

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