By Michael V. Stanton, Ph.D & Paul J. Stanton, M. Ed.
As a Millennial I grew up focusing on one career choice or two since high school. In college, that narrowed down to one field, Psychology – if I didn’t make it big in the music industry after being the lead singer of a college funk band. Now nearly fifteen years and three degrees later, I haven’t strayed far from the path I selected in college, but I now perceive the path to be much wider than I had thought. This fall, I will be working in corporate consulting and teaching mindfulness in a Health Sciences department.
It is critical for our generation to expand the perception of career options that match our skills and interests. In future job climates, we will not merely change careers at major crossroads in our lives, but we will be required to constantly develop new interests and skills in order to remain both viable and engaged in our careers. My father, a Boomer in his sixties, talks about the pressure he had to select one career to span his working life. He selected education and has spent nearly forty five years in various teaching and administrative positions in education.
But, our generation will need to be more flexible over the course of our professional lives. The skills I attained in my first few years after college are of little use to me (or anyone else, for that matter) any more. The life cycles of technology are becoming shorter and shorter. Think of the career span of TV vs. VCR vs. DVR repair. The more specific our skill set, the faster the trip back to the unemployment line.
But this article is not about despair; it is about hope. Career development needs to be a lifelong commitment that involves aspects of planning, education, and training. And, it all starts with a perspective of the need to work on our careers, even when we are well-trained, well-suited, and well-compensated for our current positions. So many of us started out in career-exploration mode, by performing internships that paid little or nothing but that helped refine our areas of interest. I worked one summer for a Fortune 500 company that went out of business less than ten years later. But the experience was positive in that it forced me to think about how I would choose to utilize my skills and in what environment I could I do that and still be engaged.
Our society needs to create more educational opportunities between degree programs on one end of the spectrum and vocational training programs on the other. And those opportunities need to be available to a broad spectrum of our society without screening people out on the basis of socioeconomic level or previous education. And, our generation needs to keep stretching our skill platform in order to contribute to the workforce for the remainder of our working days. If the social security forecasters are correct, those days will stretch for five or six decades.
Michael V. Stanton, Ph.D., is a Licensed Clinical Psychologist and Researcher at Stanford University and the Veterans Affairs Palo Alto Healthcare System.
Paul J. Stanton, M. Ed., is a career educator and administrator with more than twenty years of experience each in both secondary and higher education. He currently serves Tufts University as Dean of Student Services.