Don’t throw away proper career counseling for young people with a “Throwaway Line”

“Skip college and become a plumber: Mayor Bloomberg: The mayor’s advice, given during his weekly radio show, notes that average college students who aren’t rocket scientists might do better pursuing a career cleaning pipes. ‘You don’t spend … four years spending $40,000, $50,000 in tuition without earning income’ or amassing student loan debt, he explained, and one expert partly agrees with him.”…… NYC daily News


Sometimes hope is reduced to just knowing that at least more than a one person can arrive at the obvious.  In a recent NYC democratic mayoral candidates “debate”; it seem that all of the candidates were in agreement that the next NYC school’s chancellor should know something about education…… Imagine that!


           Further evidence of the “Big Educational Mistake” made by NYC and other cities. This is the danger of concentrating the power over Public Education into the hands of a single person who does not appreciate the role of professional knowledge in the practice of a profession (that is, when it involves education). In the case of NYC, the situation is further complicated when the mayor offering “career counseling” to young people, in fact lives in a world that is so dramatically removed from the reality of the everyday life of Young people in NYC. As to the expert who “partly agrees” with the mayor; I am not sure if Black and Latino students can take much more of these “educational experts”, before they just don’t start holding kindergarten classes in prison (who needs a pipeline?). The task of advising students as to a career path is a complicated matter; for sure, this work should really be done by professional school guidance counselors, and not even left to just “any-person” working in the school building. During the 9-12th grades the students are understandably anxious, excited with anticipation, and slightly “overwhelmed” with the flood of information and ideas concerning their future career life. They are for the first time about to enter the “real world” outside of high school, where the rules of the “game” are dramatically different. A smart transitional guidance program is essential if students are to successfully navigate through this important and difficult period in their lives. There are many public misunderstandings and misconceptions about careers and post high school education. Several are being expressed here by the mayor. The idea that one must choose between a non-college and a college track career path is a false and uninformed choice. As is the choosing of a career based on the possible pay scale it will offer (today). Addressing the later misconception first. Picking a “hot career” may leave you cold, if in 4 years that career is no longer “hot” due to a shift in the economy, consumer demand/interest or the culture. Or it just may be due to the fact that the “Hot field” is so saturated due to “over-subscription”; as millions of high school seniors (like you) from throughout the U.S. (and now the world) are also in hot pursuit (at the same time) of that same “hot” career. As the great Jerry Butler beautifully sang: “make it easy on yourself”; start with looking at pursuing a career that is a vehicle to express the things you really enjoy doing; pursue it with a passion, excellence and expertise, and the job opportunities will arrive. Finding enjoyment, passion and meaning in your work, is your true, “hot job”!  Further, the one career-one life time plan may have been prominent in the mayor’s (and my) day. Students now should be “cross- training” in multiple skill areas (i.e. communication, applied technology, design, problem solving, international cultural/linguistic literacy, management, etc.) that facilitates job promotion, and access to different types of jobs, across what may seem to be disconnected career fields. Acquiring the ability to upgrade your skills set quickly, and to be a master learner is as important as any one subject or skill area a student may master. The most marketable plumbers will be those who are capable of quickly adapting to the new technology in their field. Students should be made aware that becoming a “master plumber”, a plumbing supervisor, or an independent plumbing entrepreneur, requires an additional set of skills to master, most likely acquired at an additional educational setting away from the job site. Students, regardless of the career choice, should not be preparing for the present job market; the well advised student will also prepare for the transition into jobs that don’t presently exist. This also is connected to the mayor’s wrong concept about “going to college”; the college experience offers a great deal of career and life learning experience outside of just taking courses in your career major. The purpose of having students take a series of “core subjects” across academic disciplines is designed to assist the student in “fine-tuning” and/or selecting a “major”. This process also provides students with a wealth of knowledge and skills that can be practically utilized in their chosen fields, and in support of a better life in their role as informed citizen and human being.  Returning to the mayor’s initial wrong idea: A student can in fact combine and (through the pursuing of a dual college and Career Technical Education (CTE) track) prepare for both a career in plumbing, carpentry, electrician, etc. and the earning of a college degree. Now, these types of schools exist nationally, including NYC; the reason the mayor was not briefed properly (or perhaps refused a briefing) is a topic for another day.  The dual track CTE-College approach can create a strong resume if the student enters a college B.S. program in the area of construction technology, management, engineering, art, research, and architecture, etc. This plan can also allow the student to earn while they learn if they enter a “trades” apprenticeship program; and also attend college. This can go a long way in helping to solve the growing problem of escalating and debilitating student college debt; there is nothing sacred attached to a 4 year college B.S. program. And yet there is much to gain by taking a dual apprentice and a 5-6 year college program. These complicated decisions should be made on a student by student basis, and should be definitely placed in the proper professional hands of an experienced and certified professional guidance counselor. Unfortunately we find ourselves in the middle of “professional experience does not matter” end of the historical pendulum. It is our practice in Public Education to panic every few years; and seek not a thoughtful strategy to raise academic achievement; but rather to institute “extreme solutions that ends up primarily failing the students who live in the most politically/economically impoverished communities; the students who are the most academically vulnerable.  Bad or incomplete information is dangerous in education as you can’t give a person a second chance in the same time-frame once you have directed them down the wrong path. The first important career message we should give to students is the opposite of what is proposed by Mr. Blumberg. Students should seek to first find their passion, the vehicle for their greatest talents; what do they enjoy doing the most; what are they good at doing; every child is endowed with a unique gift and contribution that they can offer to the world; the goal of real career counseling is to help students to discover for what purpose they are called to contribute; plan a solid “critical path” educational-course plan (work your plan hard) to achieve that objective; and then do the work you love to do, and finally, get paid to do it! You should by all means make money to address your desire to live a comfortable life; but who you are can never be made by money; a life that only values: “making the most money” is an unfulfilling and valueless life. After you made all of the money in this life; you would still be in search of your “missing” life.

      Career counseling is a serious matter in the lives of young people. I would even say it is at the top of “matters” they must consider as they prepare (starting in the 9th grade) to leave high school. This decision has life (defining) long implications; it should never be placed in the hands of non-professionals or the topic of a “throwaway line” in an entertainment venue. The POTUS, the governor of a state, and the mayor of any city are by virtue of their positions, major “ influencers” of thinking on the part of citizens of all ages; this then requires them to think carefully and thoughtfully about the advice they offer their constituents. It would be unfair to expect the above named leaders to know every aspect and detail of every activity that comes under the umbrella of their responsible oversight. But I do believe they have an ethical responsibility to get the correct information from a knowledgeable expert source. It is Ironic that recently I was watching a news program that presented a segment on the economy featuring a very knowledgeable and articulate Business/Marketing expert from Blumberg L.P.; and guess what: The guy was actually a Business/ Marketing expert! And so I guess when you are playing with your own money (not the public’s), experience and expertise does matter.