Boomer parent's advice for today's moms and dads

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By Susan Pohorski

Happy graduate in cap and gown.On behalf of all Baby Boomer parents everywhere I want to apologize to our children. I’m sorry I said you could be whatever you want to be. I’m sorry I told you a four-year degree was the only way to get a good-paying career. I’m sorry I let you borrow all that money to spend on tuition.

Now you have a four-year degree but no job skills, and you can’t get a job that will pay enough to cover your student loan debt. You’ll likely be paying back those loans until your children graduate from high school. You won’t be able to buy a house or start saving for your kids’ education.

What was I thinking? I was thinking of the world I grew up in, not the world as it is today. Like previous generations, I wanted you to have more education and a better income than I had. I thought skilled jobs were beneath me and I thought manufacturing was dark, dirty and dangerous. I remembered the media reports of offshoring in the early 2000s and didn’t want you to face loosing your job to cheap foreign labor.

Things are different now.  When I was in college no one had a personal computer. Now you must have computer skills for almost any job. Now some of the best-paying jobs do not require a four-year degree. There is big demand for “middle skill” workers and low-skilled health care occupations have the highest growth rate.

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, in 2010 only one third of jobs were in occupations that typically require post secondary education. Of those, only 16.5 percent typically require a bachelor’s degree while 18 percent typically require an associate degree. And in 2011, the median annual income for occupations requiring an associate degree was $62,850. That’s right, you could be making more than I make with my bachelor’s degree and 25 years of experience.

Occupations requiring an associate degree are projected to grow by 18 percent between 2010 and 2020. Occupations that typically require apprenticeships are projected to grow the fastest at 22.5 percent.

Those manufacturing jobs? Now, they are clean, safe and very high tech. And the pay isn’t bad either. Manufacturers are bringing jobs back to the states.

I’ve also learned that education is a life-long endeavor, not one and done. The four-year degree I earned 30-something years ago is not enough for today’s job market. It did not give me the skills I need for my current job. Over the years I have taken classes at my local technical college to learn new computer applications. Recently, I completed a certificate in Social Media. To keep up with changing technology and the changing economy, you need to learn new things.

If I were to do it again I would urge my children to consider all educational options, and choose careers with realistic futures and lower debt.