Midway through this past second semester, the parent club at our school held an outstanding career day for our 1500+ high school students. Volunteers from business, trades, education, government, and a host of other industries and professions staffed twenty or so panels spanning a variety of career fields. Career day, more precisely “career morning,” offered students a chance to learn a little about a career field of interest, ask questions, and contemplate their future after high school.
Career day consisted of three fifty-minute time slots where students pre-selected a career field for two of the time slots and attended a keynote for the other. I presume this approach helped coordinators level students across the panels with the balance placed in a keynote session. Teachers were assigned as moderators and monitors for each panel and the keynotes.
When the planning for career day kicked off earlier in the semester, teachers were asked which panels they wished to help moderate. When I first learned about it, I decided to offer myself up as a panelist for a few of the fields as my 25 year career in high-tech before I became a teacher spanned roles in engineering, product management, marketing communications to include PR, strategy, and business development. The planning committee accepted my offer and assigned me to the high-tech and engineering career panel.
As career day approached, we were provided the following suggestions.
- Provide a brief, broad introduction to your profession. (Perhaps coordinate with other professionals on your panel.)
- Explain how your specific job fits into the broader career panel.
- Discuss the career path (education, training, internships). If possible, give students a sense of how long it took and the general cost of the training (i.e., dental hygienist, 2 year program which cost $X).
- If your career path took many twists and turns, please talk about that and how it’s possible to have many different professions during a lifetime.
- Students may ask about salaries. Try to give them an idea of a salary range that’s realistic, as well as any info on salary increases (by college degrees earned, work/years experience, etc.).
- Give some concrete examples of what you do during the day. Talk about what you like and dislike about your profession.
- If you would like, bring some visual aids to show students the fruits of your labor (blueprints, photographs, models, etc.) and information on your company (brochures, pencils, pens, logo items, etc.)
A night before the big day, I created the following slide, which shows my “effective” hourly rate every two years over a thirty-two year period, when education credentials were received, the colleges I attended, and the companies where I worked.
I wove a thread from my life story through my presentation explaining how as a first-generation college graduate (I did not know that term at the time), I had the good fortune of working my way from not having any real assets to a reasonable living providing for my family in Silicon Valley. While luck played a role in my successes, hard work and continued education opened many doors. My journey took me to places I never imagined, to cultures that opened my eyes and stretched my mind, to people who helped me grow as a person, to positions that would challenge me, to schools of higher education that allowed my to pursue my interests, and to times that I celebrated and lamented, thankful for the opportunity to live such a full life. Through it all, I never stopped learning or trying to improve myself. With my story, I hoped to inspire students to stay committed to their high school education, consider a career in high-tech, or whatever excites their interests, irrespective of whether it required a four-year degree, two-year degree or no degree at all.
I enjoyed serving as a panelist and meeting my co-panelists. I believe students benefited from the opportunity. I hope some were inspired to pursue their dreams.