A fascinating aspect of my prior career as a consultant was working with a wide range of businesses that I would not have guessed had existed. One client milled silicon carbide and tungsten into precision rings that serve as impenetrable seals for pipelines. Another does nothing more than replace air filters in air conditioning units throughout southern California, on schedules as frequent as twice a week to as infrequent as once per year. One installed sheet metal flashing in housing tracts, while another used injection molding to create the bottles in which we buy items such as shampoo and sunscreen. One was a metals broker, who worked with little more than a desk, a rolodex, and a phone. His entire business model was to connect buyers with sellers for a hefty commission. Some businesses are not obvious until you hear about them, others are not obvious at all.
Students arrive at our institution unaware of the breadth of careers available to them. When the average student looks for a summer job, they will think of the organizations that are familiar to them on a day-to-day basis: retail stores, restaurants, domestic service, construction, auto repair, recreation, pet care, academic, fire, police, and military. Those jobs that are out of their range of experience will not even register on their radar.
And, of course, not all job or career opportunities are for-profit businesses or the obvious local services. Non-profit organizations span a vast range of domains. Political, environmental, social, animal welfare, economic, hobby, sports, and special interest groups of all types fall under the non-profit mantle. Students often do not understand that non-profit does not mean everyone works for free. Government jobs are similarly diverse. City, county, state, and national governments offer a broad range of jobs across virtually all disciplines. And, of course, opportunities in the NGO space, made possible by governmentally-funded programs such as AmeriCorps, open up an abundance of summer jobs, apprenticeships, and full-blown careers.
Fit to personality is another career dimension of which our students may have an underappreciation. I have worn many hats in my lifetime and discovered that some fit better than others. I am a ‘people person,’ hence my recent transition into the classroom. I love programming, but every hour I spend in front of a computer monitor is another hour I do not spend communing with humanity. Some career paths are great for people with natural propensities for organization. Others exist for those who enjoy swimming in creative chaos. Not everyone wishes to lead; some want to swim with the flow while others are quite content being dragged along by the current. Choosing a career by happenstance, or based upon interest without concern for fit, are mistakes that we can assist our students to avoid.
My point is that we, as educators, have an important role to play in helping our students discover the career possibilities that will best match their personalities, stoke their interests, provide a comfortable living, expand their understanding of the world, and provide a return on investment for their communities. These possibilities need not be the cookie-cutter jobs in our fields. By virtue of our experience and positions, we are in a unique position to be able to steer our students past the common and mundane, obvious jobs into the open ocean of possibilities and horizons. If, once a week, we each take five minutes to discuss possibilities our students may not be aware of, we can launch a thousand ships that will return some day to regale us with their tales of those things that we, too, did not realize were beyond the horizon.