Georgia’s college and career clusters, which help students develop a practical career plan, puts the state’s young professionals at a tremendous advantage. That said, even more can be done to prepare students to enter the workforce - whether they intend to attend college or not.
Though helpful in providing broad overviews of traditional careers, the 17 career clusters that Georgia’s schools cover don’t touch on the huge opportunities being leveraged by creative entrepreneurs and those taking on alternative careers- prospects in which millennials are keenly interested. According to The U.S. Chamber of Commerce Foundation’s Millennial Generation Research Review, over a quarter of millennials are self-employed and half to two thirds are interested in entrepreneurship.
As an entrepreneur in the heart of Silicon Valley, I live in a world in which seemingly everyone has a start-up or an agile, independent career. While the Silicon Valley lifestyle doesn’t make sense everywhere, three of its elements are well worth incorporating into any career-minded curriculum: public documentation, development of concrete skills, and an entrepreneurial mindset. These elements will improve a student’s prospects whether he wishes to start a company, become a self-employed professional, attend college or work for a well-established organization.
An easy way to add utility and value to existing career-oriented curriculum is to encourage students to leave a clear, easy-to-find digital paper trail. Documentation of the technical and soft skills students learn relative to their career clusters should be easy to find online and clearly tied with students’ online resumes. For example, teachers can encourage students within the Marketing cluster to publish articles analyzing major trends in online and offline marketing on a blog, or encourage students to create a website featuring interviews they have conducted with professionals in the field.
Students should actively publish their work online because a significant percentage of potential employers check candidates’ social media profiles. Employers want evidence of concrete experience, and a robust online footprint showing active interest and involvement with an industry can go a long way in setting a student apart from other candidates. Potential employers who vet applicants online will be far happier to discover that an applicant is actively engaged in the field by publishing blog posts, articles, and commentary on the industry rather than just attempting to hide embarrassing Facebook photos (or worse set, failing to successfully do so).
Though clear, public documentation of research and lessons learned will help a student look more attractive to employers, nothing beats concrete experience. One of the best things teachers can encourage students to do is kick off benefits, fundraisers, volunteer events, and research projects related to their career clusters to get them actively involved in the field. As McKinsey reported that nearly 40% of employers attribute a lack of skills to entry-level vacancies, anything a student can do to demonstrate the presence of practical skills will help his or her case.
The initiative students take to develop professional skills need not be purely academic or philanthropic in nature. Career clusters are designed to help students decide what works and what doesn’t. Nothing teaches this faster than firsthand entrepreneurial experience. Students have all the resources they need to develop independent ventures online related to industries of interest to them. If a student is interested in the Arts, Audio/Video Technology & Communications cluster for example, he can easily create an online portfolio and begin selling design or video editing services to find if he enjoys working with clients on a freelance basis.
Encouraging students to launch independent, entrepreneurial initiatives teaches them that building a career need not entail finding a full-time employer (something with which many high school and college grads are having difficulty). Playing around with small, independent businesses while still in high school is a relatively low risk prospect, as there are plenty of opportunities that require no up-front investment and most students don’t have to worry about paying the bills or putting food on the table, which makes this the ideal time to experiment (rather than after graduation from college, when one is in debt or in serious need of a steady income).
I cover many of the common paths curious potential entrepreneurs might take on Gigaverse, a site sharing courses on pursuing online careers. In many cases, starting a company can be as simple as setting up a free storefront on a site like Etsy, Storenvy, or Zazzle, (we show how to go about this in our course on online sales) or creating a simple site using WordPress to advertise freelance services (we discuss this in our course on blogging).
Imagine you are the owner of an Atlanta-based copywriting firm and you have to choose between two applicants. Applicant A is articulate, has good writing skills, and seems knowledgeable about the marketing industry. Applicant B has an impressive online resume complete with a variety writing samples (including several articles analyzing the copywriting industry) and already does freelance copywriting work in her small hometown. Which applicant would you want to hire?
Ultimately, a student who is encouraged to publicly document her findings, develop immediately-actionable skills, and even start her own company is going to be a far more attractive prospect than a counterpart who has simply studied an industry.