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Transition to the World of Work
From the Older Kids column, by Cafi Cohen, originally published in the November-December 1996 issue of Home Education Magazine.


As homeschooling parents, we hope our kids will progress naturally from homeschooling into the world of work. We envision our children developing consuming passions and eventually using their talents to make a living.
For some kids, the path is obvious. The teenager who lived and breathed cars and motors volunteers at an auto repair shop, eases into a paying position, and in due time starts his own auto repair business. Or he enlists in the military, learns jet engine repair and maintenance, and eventually goes to work for a major airline. Kids like this just follow their noses, and everything turns out pretty well.

Others, even as teenagers, never seem to develop an interest which translates readily into a paying job or progresses to a career. Often these kids are good students. Many boast an impressive roster of extra-curricular activities. Some of them say, "Everything looks interesting. How can I narrow down my choices?" These kids need extra help to make the transition from home to the world of work.

Note that I said transition from "home to the world of work," not "home to the world of college." If a teenager is unsure of his direction, college will be a waste of time and money. I do not buy the old maxim: "Send 'em, and they will figure it out when they get there." Instead, send them out to work to determine if they need college. When and if they do attend college, it will be worth every cent. They will know why they are there and probably will do very well academically.

Homeschooling families are so lucky, homeschooling teenagers even more so. Homeschoolers bring an attitude of self-reliance plus a networking mindset to any first-job search. Many homeschooling teenagers absorb these qualities through years of watching their parents find appropriate resources.

Additionally, homeschooling parents and teenagers have time to explore various occupational fields. But how do you get started? What fields look interesting? What jobs are available in those fields? What resources are available to help older teenagers and young adults locate That First Job?

Ideally, plan to spend one to two years researching the possibilities. Check out the following resources in your community: friends, neighbors, and relatives; local newspapers; library reference holdings; career counseling centers and public employment offices; and volunteer and apprenticeship opportunities -- not necessarily in that order.

Interviewing Friends, Neighbors, and Relatives
Many people find jobs or begin careers based on exposure to occupations of friends, neighbors, and relatives. Encourage your teenager to set up interviews with those around him doing interesting work. Certain questions usually get the conversational ball rolling: What's the best thing about this job/work? The worst? What drew you to this work? Do you find the work satisfying or frustrating? Would you encourage others to seek similar employment?

Newspaper Help-Wanted Ads
The local newspaper help-wanted ads are another excellent place to begin. From these ads, your teenager can educate himself in a non-threatening manner about those occupations in sufficient demand to warrant advertising. (Job search manuals generally advise that most jobs are not filled through classified advertising, but instead through networking.) Encourage your teenager to peruse the Sunday ads for many months to help him develop a picture of (1) the overall job market and (2) qualifications needed for various jobs. He should also note salaries offered for various positions. Just reading job descriptions may help him develop a feel for what type of work he would like to do.

Library Resources
I queried the reference librarian at our small, local branch library about career research and job search materials they recommend. What a wealth of data. The non-circulating reference section (call numbers 331...) had the multi-volume, yet very readable, Career Information Center, 6th Edition, "for people who want help making career choices." Under each of the many careers listed was information about salary, education or training requirements, employment outlook, and trends. Also available were the US Department of Labor Occupational Outlook Handbook and the multi-volume Exploring Tech Careers.

The data in these resources is difficult to approach cold, that is, when the potential job-seeker (teenager) has no idea what direction to take. Bolstered with information from several months of reviewing want-ads, personal experience with several occupations through volunteering (of which, more, further down), and interviews with working friends and relatives, the data comes to life.

In the regular non-fiction section of the library (again under call numbers beginning with 331), I found materials about resumes, interviewing, and other job-search skills and techniques. There were also books on correlating your job search with your interests and talents.

One of these looked particularly appropriate: What Color Is Your Parachute? A Practical Manual For Job Hunters and Career Changers (updated annually) by Richard Bolles is an excellent how-to manual. It includes a sections on choosing a career ("What Do You Want To Do?" and "Where Do You Want To Do It?"); job hunting (including chapters on working at home and starting your own business), interviewing, and a "pink pages" section on finding your mission in life. Highly recommended. A couple of other titles caught my eye. The Off-The-Beaten-Path Job Book: You CAN Make a Living AND Have a Life! by Sandra Gurvis (1995) detailed jobs like Greeting Card Writer, Tour Guide, Dog Groomer, Polygrapher, Midwife, and Product Tester, and many more. Real People, Real Jobs: Reflecting Your Interests In The World Of Work by David H. Montross, et. al. (1995) included stories of 40 people in traditional and not-so-traditional occupations. Certainly teenagers looking beyond the usual ways of earning a living and the usual job search techniques will want to check out these books.

Career Counseling Services and Employment Offices
Through local school districts, adult education programs, community colleges, and in the Yellow Pages, you can develop a list of local career counseling programs and employment offices. Many of them offer free or almost free services including personal development classes, interest and skills inventories (tests), help writing resumes and preparing for interviews, time and financial management strategies, and job referral and placement.
I interviewed the coordinator at our local county career center (accessed here through the county adult education program) and got some excellent, general pointers for job searchers. She said that the primary skills and attitudes most employers want include good oral and written communication skills, the desire and ability to be a team player, and flexibility ("The key to survival."). According to the coordinator, the single most important asset any job seeker could present to an employer is computer literacy (ability to use a word processor, prepare a spread sheet, and manage files).

The coordinator (who works for a government agency) said that job-seekers should also consider talking to private employment and temporary employment agencies (those whose fees are paid by employers). The trick, she said, is getting one's foot in the door. Job-seekers should not turn their noses up at part-time, temporary positions and those with no benefits; those jobs may turn into full-time permanent positions.

Volunteer and Apprenticeship Opportunities
Teenage homeschoolers volunteer in many areas. Most of us are familiar with the volunteer programs in libraries and hospitals and museums. Homeschoolers are wise to look beyond established programs, however. I have known homeschooled teenagers who volunteered with veterinarians, drama groups, political campaigns, radio stations, bookstores, etc. The possibilities are limited only, perhaps, by your location.

Why is volunteering important with respect to a future job? Volunteering allows teenagers to experience a wide variety of work environments and occupations, while contributing to the community. And the volunteer experience sometimes rules specific future employment in or out. Although she enjoyed the work and the people, our daughter learned that none of the medical professions was for her after volunteering for a year at a local hospital. Result? She didn't waste 2-4 years going to nursing school only to discover that she did not like health care.

Of course, results may be more positive: volunteering can lead to a paying job. The pages of Growing Without Schooling are replete with examples of teenagers who parlayed volunteer positions into full-time paid work. Even with no paying position in the offing, volunteering provides experience and generates all-important resume data. Additionally, the teenager will usually garner recommendations from adults who have worked with him.

How does a student get a volunteer job where there is no volunteer program in place? Just ask! Ideally, the teenager will present himself with a brief resume and letters of recommendation, together with a statement of why he wants to volunteer for the organization in question. Sometimes the big draw in giving a teenage homeschooler a volunteer opportunity includes the kid's availability during normal school hours. Be sure to let them know!

Certainly as your child moves from his middle into his late teens, he may be more interested in an apprenticeship. Many to most apprenticeships pay a salary while the apprentice is learning. Back to the library here. Ferguson's Guide To Apprenticeship Programs (reference section of our library) not only had information about trades we traditionally associate with apprenticeships (tile setters, tool and die makers) but also about less traditional options: folk arts apprenticeships, fire fighting, and horse training, for example.

It is difficult, almost impossible for some 17-21 year-olds to make career decisions. Their interests are still changing so much from year to year. After doing the research and volunteering and doing everything else you can conceive, you and your teenager may have to make do with the thought: "Try something." Trial-and-error may be the best approach for some.

This type of teenager may also be comforted by the words of Donn Reed in The Home School Source Book: "There is nothing undesirable in having a variety of work, either concurrently or consecutively; a peripatetic career can be as remunerative and often more satisfying than the single-minded pursuit of only one kind of work.....Choosing a career should be done only if one wants [emphasis mine] a career."
- 1996, Cafi Cohen

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