Many of the most-needed jobs of today and tomorrow do not require a four-year degree, says GREGORY PEASLEE of UPMC
One challenge that must be addressed is that most kids aren’t aware of which jobs are driving today’s economy. In a local survey of 20,000 high school students conducted this year by Smart Futures, a Pittsburgh-based nonprofit organization, the favored occupations were lawyer, criminal science investigator, child care worker, actor and athlete. But the real demand is for jobs critical to our future — jobs in health care, science and engineering, information technology and finance.
A second challenge for our nation and region is that most high school students are not exposed to a realistic picture of the preparation needed for today’s and tomorrow’s careers.
Nationally, 95 percent of ninth graders still aspire to a four-year degree as their main ticket to success, according to Penn State Prof. Kenneth Grey in “Other Ways to Win.” But the paths to career success in today’s job market are far more rich and varied than in the past and require specific skill sets. In fact, only 25 percent of all occupations nationally require a four-year degree or better. The fastest-growing segment of today’s job market requires skills learned with a two-year degree or less.
On a regional level, career opportunities at UPMC reflect this national demand for “skills over a degree.” In the survey of high school students, the average 10th grader was not aware of jobs available in health care, except for doctor or nurse. And yet, of our top 10 hiring priorities for positions at UPMC, only three require a four-year degree or more. A full seven of the 10 in most demand — nursing assistant/home health aide, medical assistant, pharmacy technician, certain types of nurses, medical lab technician, respiratory therapist and radiological technician — require less training than a four-year degree. Of course, a bachelor’s degree enhances a professional nursing career.
At a time when our economy demands that virtually all workers possess strong and relevant skills, it is critical that we help our high school students develop plans for their success motivated by realistic college and career goals.
As stakeholders in the future of our children and nation, employers need to partner with schools, parents and communities so that education is both edifying and focused on the marketplace.
As a society, each of us has a role to play. Corporate citizens in particular are in an ideal position to play an active role in helping kids, as well as their parents and teachers, to “get real” about tomorrow’s careers and the preparation needed to succeed.
Employers need to be involved in career mentoring programs. Recently, UPMC made a commitment to extend 500 of our employees as online mentors to 10th graders in order to help them with college and career planning. Run by Smart Futures, the PA eMentoring program uses the Internet to provide a convenient, fun and safe approach to mentoring.
Through this program, adult workers, retirees, stay-at-home parents and college students can become online mentors by being matched to a student through the student’s high school. Volunteers give about 20 minutes a week, sharing their education and career stories while helping students develop their own plans.
This program is one example of the kind of one-to-one mentoring that can help motivate and guide students as they make major college and career decisions. Potential community benefits include higher graduation rates, reduction in college debt and a workforce better prepared for the careers in demand.
It is critical to our region’s future that we, as individuals and employers, talk to and connect with those 10th graders now about jobs that matter. With new programs and approaches like PA eMentoring, we can meet the challenges of providing an effective education, productive and meaningful work and an enriching future for our youth and country.