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September 2, 2014

Directing students into careers

Among relatives and friends of people who have recently received college diplomas, not surprising there is a feeling of jubilation. It is a universal feeling based upon the premise that persons receiving college degrees have developed certain competencies that can act as a bridge between them and their ability to earn a meaningful living plus prevent the likelihood of their ever being socially and economically obsolete.

Unfortunately, that premise is not always sound for many college graduates who were excellent high school and college students find themselves facing possibly the worse job outlook ever as they desperately seek employment in areas where they were well-trained but where there is not a demand. In short, numerous graduates have spent four or more years studying and preparing themselves for various occupations only to be told upon seeking employment that there is no market for their skills.

The more frustrated among them are even having second thoughts in retrospect about the worth of their academic endeavors, especially since increasing numbers of college graduates are obliged to accept jobs not only unconnected with their field of study but completely outside managerial and professional ranks.

Furthermore, many economists predict the job market will almost surely have a surplus of college graduates for at least a decade. Substantial evidence suggests that while there is enough blame to pass around, high schools, two-year colleges and four-year colleges and universities are primarily at fault.

Many students leave high school without any concept of what they want to do or where they want to go or what the world of work or college is all about. Some go on to college, select major areas of study that sound impressive, appear easy or are popular. Many know very little about requirements or the course's usefulness for employment in the future.

In high schools, there must be massive support services that will help students choose and plan careers. They must have adequate information about themselves such as is derived from aptitude, ability and interest tests. They need labor market prospects for the future and information on colleges and universities to intelligently select the right major field of study and the right college.

Too many college programs are still weighted toward areas of human services and the old business and industrial occupations and are not moving fast enough toward the more marketable occupations. This causes students to be graduated with degrees in areas that once were in great demand but are now somewhat obsolete as far as the present and projected job market is concerned.

Colleges for the most part need to establish closer working relationships with business, industry and public employers for advisory services, work experiences and even instructional assistance. All need to provide effective counseling, job placement and follow-up service to students.

Generally, students are urged by all persons concerned to use their intelligence and be persistent in studying for a college degree. But persistence and intelligence used in earning a nonproductive degree can produce much frustration and embarrassment for graduates and their families. Officials at the high school and college level should ensure that college graduates be spared much discomfort by insisting that they received counseling relevant to a career selection.

William E. Mason Sr., of East St. Louis, is president of the Metro East Black Contractors Organization.

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