Start career exploration earlier in life

By Susan Pohorski

The good news: economic recovery is coming. The bad news: members of the millennial generation (18-34-year olds) are being left behind. That’s the message of Diana Carew, economist and director of the Young American Prosperity Project at the Progressive Policy Institute.

Carew points to recent jobs reports indicating labor force participation is just 54.8 percent for young Americans. Those who have college degrees are underemployed, taking lower-skill jobs from those with less education. The ripple effect could last a while, she warns.

“They are not qualified for high-tech STEM jobs, so they are taking lower-paid jobs that might not require college degree,” Carew told listeners on Wisconsin Public Radio’s Joy Cardin Show.

Young people always experience underemployment. What’s unusual is how high the number is and it’s not declining. Carew says young people are taking longer to integrate into the workforce. A confluence of factors is making things very tough. She mentioned high demand in technical, engineering and data-driven jobs, and baby boomers putting off retirement. The average student debt is $30,000 making for high monthly payments, she added.

Her advice? “Be careful about our investment. Think of college as a workforce preparedness tool.” Carew is urging students and parents to measure the cost of higher education to the expected return.

“We have to ask ‘What skills are employers looking for?’ We need to be thinking about what’s going to make us a desirable candidate to employers that are hiring,” she stated.

Young people should begin career exploration earlier in their lives. They should be thinking about what jobs they want and how to get there.

Carew reminded listeners that a 4-year college degree is just one-way of getting into the workforce. “Society has put preeminence on 4-year degrees,” she said. “It is almost the only acceptable way of continuing your education. The technical or vocational pathway is just as good and maybe even better for some people.”

Parents and students take notice: vocational education is in high demand. Start viewing vocational and technical education as a realistic option for high school graduates. There are jobs, but they require some training. Employers are hiring individuals with technical skills and paying them well.

“Career development is not integrated at the secondary level in all schools,” Carew pointed out. “Students should think about this early on.”

She also wants policy makers to pay more attention to this issue. “Make young people a bigger priority. They are left out of the conversation in Washington.”

The Higher Education Act established federal student aid programs in 1965 and has seen few reforms since then.

“We could use some reform here in repayment options and the structure of loans,” Carew said. “It could be tool to help students make better decisions.”

Policy makers can also help students by integrating technology in the classroom. Make sure young people are trained in financial literacy and career development, she added.

Perhaps we need a new campaign: No Millennials Left Behind.