Platt Perspective on Business and Technology

An open letter to the college class of 2018 and to high school juniors and seniors

Posted in career development, job search, job search and career development by Timothy Platt on October 24, 2014

I first began writing job and career planning open letters to college students who are soon to graduate and to recent college graduates in June, 2010 with: An Open Letter to the Class of 2010, and to the Class of 2011. And while the majority of people who would seek out a resource like my Guide to Effective Job Search and Career Development have already been active in the workforce, I have always seen this outreach effort to be of particular importance. (See my supplemental postings at the ends of my Guide Page 1, Page 2 and Page 3 for this and related letters and postings, and the Guide in general for relevant job search and career development resources.)

I admit here that I have rethought who I am addressing in these letters, and add in that regard that I have probably been writing to the wrong audience for at least some of what I have been saying in them. So I have decided to write this open letter to an earlier audience and to people who have just entered college and to those who seek to do so – high school seniors as they start actively looking for colleges to apply to.

When I first started writing these letters, the overall unemployment rate in the United States and across all working age demographics there was very high, and it has remained so as a whole until very recently as of this writing. It is still disturbingly high and stably so for a wide range of more specific demographic groups and their members within the working age population in the United States. To cite just one persistently highly unemployed group in that context out of many possible, I would note here job seekers from essentially any region of this country, urban or rural, who have not completed at least a high school education. I add that job seekers who have graduated from high school but who have no formal education or training certifications beyond that do not necessarily fare much better. And that is in the United States. Jobs and employment recoveries have continued to lag far behind in much of Europe and not just in the Eurozone countries that were hit hardest by the global Great Recession. And globally, a variety of other nations and regions also still see higher ongoing unemployment rates too, and persistent barriers to entering into and staying in the workforce (e.g. consider Japan with its still ongoing economic challenges.)

Will these numbers improve over the next few years while you are still in school, and still for many of you at most only looking for part time work? That depends on what does or does not happen that might affect consumer and business confidence but the possibility is still quite real. But when you are starting out on a career path, it makes sense to at least consider the long-term, even if this is a time when you might have as much flexibility as you will ever have as you prepare for your longer-term futures.

There are no easy-to-follow formulas or rules here. Some educational paths and some degree majors already very clearly do not prepare you to be more competitive in the jobs market, by not particularly positioning you for gaining even basic sought after transferable skills or work qualifications. Some do and even with a specific here-and-now jobs and careers focus. But what is in demand changes and what is the most in demand and even the most competitively sought after by employers now, might not be in real demand at all in ten years or even just in a few.

So I would argue pursuing an education with multiple simultaneous goals:

• Choose some courses simply because you see personal value and meaning in them and because you want to. Look for and learn from inspiring teachers and in directions that would feed your mind and yes, your soul.
• But also take classes that would offer you a suite of generally applicable skills and transferable skills that would offer an employer real value in any of a wide range of positions that you might pursue.
• And take courses that would offer you more directly and immediately practical skills foundations too, and even particular currently in-demand skills that you could market yourself as having as you finish school and first begin trying to build your own career path. You can build a more ongoing here-and-now skills set from there and in that regard,
• Be prepared to be a lifelong learner, and one who is self-motivated to continue learning and both openly and widely. I stress here the importance of being an open minded learner who cultivates interest in everything. The more you learn and the more widely you learn the more flexible you can be in the face of change and the more adaptable you can be in responding to its challenges.
• Be flexible and be willing to be flexible in all of this. Be open and receptive to new ideas and seek out mentors who can share with you from their experience, good and bad. And network, network, network. (See my four core postings on this at the top of my Social Networking and Business directory page that I organize there under the shared general title: Jumpstarting Your Network.)

What I am writing of here can perhaps be summarized in a single bullet point that I admit would not offer much insight in and of itself, but that in fact covers the other points just listed:

• Cultivate both knowledge and wisdom – and if not general wisdom of a type that only comes from time and experience then the practical here-and-now wisdom of learning from others and shortening your own learning curves as a result.

The jobs and career paths available now will change and continue to change. So this letter is about preparing for a more volatile and uncertain workplace future than your grandparents or even your parents faced when they finished school, and at whatever level of education that they completed. But this can be made to work and there will be positive paths forward for those of you who are willing to flexibly, creatively find and pursue what is possible and what would be right for you.

I have been thinking about writing this open letter for months now, and do so here and now with full expectations that anything I write here would be incomplete. I will continue to write these letters and to add more to this Guide in general and both as regular postings and series and as supplemental material (listed at the ends of the directory pages like this letter.)

Meanwhile, good fortune in all you do,

Tim Platt

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