Helping teens get ready for work

Today’s educators have a far more significant role to play in developing students’ skills and attitudes for the workplace than those of a generation ago. There are several reasons for this:

  1. Today’s students often have no direct experience of what their parents do for a living.
  2. Occupations to which students have been exposed through their parents are not likely to be jobs students will have.
  3. Some of the jobs to which the next decade’s high school graduates will go haven’t been created yet.
  4. The kinds of jobs open to teenagers are rarely jobs in which they can practice skills used in desirable adult jobs.
  5. Many students will go into jobs that are not in and of themselves creative or challenging.

That last point is one educators don’t want to consider. However, it may be the most important of all.

If the paid employment students are likely to have does not provide opportunities for them to lead productive, fulfilling lives students need to be taught how to change their attitudes and their jobs to make them opportunities for what Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi (shown in this TED talk video) calls flow. Flow is the state in which individuals find challenge, enjoyment, concentration and deep involvement.

A person with the correct mindset can experience flow in settings in which others experience only misery.

I reported in previous posts some of the findings of  Csikszentmihalyi and Barbara Schneider‘s six-year study of adolescents’ career formation reported in their book Becoming Adult. One post deals with what happens in schools, the other with class, race and school enjoyment.

Even if you don’t read the entire study, I suggest reading chapter 10, in which the authors present their recommendations. Even out of context, the seven are worth a look:

1. Develop high school curricula in academic subjects that stress creativity, flexibility, and emotional intelligence.

2. Encourage high schools to provide more instructional time in academic students and to use that time in ways that are intellectually engaging for the students.

3. Restructure school-to-work programs in high schools so that students come to realize that productive employment in the future will require continual training and learning.

4. Encourage intrinsic motivation and teach children to enjoy what they do for its own sake, not just for the sake of getting good grades.

5. Clarify the links between time use and future job options.

6. Find situations that are more play-like for disadvantaged youth.

7. Encourage parents to become more actively involve in their teenage children’s lives.

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