Early “Career” Assessments: The bad, the good, and the beautiful.


Mark Greenstein

Mark Greenstein. Credit: Leslie Yager

by Mark Greenstein, Founder and Lead Instructor Ivy Bound Test Prep and Academic Tutoring / Rising Stars

Parents concerned about their children’s development are bound to come across “career readiness” or “career aptitude” assessments even in the primary school years.  State agencies and even the national ACT (“American College Testing”) make these available online.  Parents, and students who encounter them prior to high school, should be very wary of their usefulness.

The Bad
The bad is using a multiple choice test to approximate any career.  No career is done on paper.  Day ONE on any job involves working with people, systems, and tangible things, not tests of acuity. Colleagues rarely know how a newbie scored on past tests, and almost never care.  How well you take on responsibilities is their prime concern.

The bad also includes “pigeon-holing” any career based on one’s incoming skills.  That’s because students can DEVELOP skills. “Educator” and “Writer” would have been two of my least-likely destinations based on a high school skills assessment, but I now hold my own at both.

The bad also includes the oversimplification inherent in identifying careers.    Even the ACT report (see link),with a high number of listed careers, can’t do justice to the sets of careers within careers.  This report lists 26 categories (A – Z), but America today offers hundreds of sub-branches.  Indeed, some sub-branches have been created by one or more people with skills that “don’t fit” the mold but are valuable to others.

Sub-branches of the same “industry”require very different skills.   Just look at the wide variety within just sub-categories A, B, and C of the ACT’s “A-Z” list.  A. “Employment-Related Services” can mean very people-centric work in training, or very numbers-oriented work in accounting or taxation, or very detail-yet-clever work in human resources or cyber-security.    B. “Marketing & Sales” can mean designing brochures and online presentations at a computer or it can mean driving from client-to-client for face-to-face pitches.  These days it can mean sitting in your home with a computer doing social media offerings but never having face-to-face interactions.  C. “Regulation & Protection” can mean a very outdoorsy job of assessing environmental contamination, or the indoors-but still “out-of-office” work at plants and stores that are trying to comply with government rules or with industry standards.  It can be office-bound work assessing reports from outside inspectors or it could be in the halls of a legislature looking to establish safety guidelines.  It even includes the “life-and-death” careers of military service and policing.

Finally, in all the above there are careers in managing vs. following.  Some are far more suited to managing, others to following.  In all above there are various levels of independence vs. collaboration.  That too is a big divide.  Indeed, a child’s desires for independence vs. collaboration and for managing vs. following may be less protean (less able to be altered) than any current skill set or mental cogitations coming from a paper test.

The Good
The good aspect of these early reports is that they allow parents and student to open their eyes to possibilities.  In that respect, just the LIST (not the assessment) may be helpful.  That a career in “Fire Protection & Safety Technology” (in category K) might exist without rushing into burning buildings is good to know.  That a career in “Recreation management” is available to a kid who loves sports but is not that talented may be very welcome.

The Beautiful
The many sub-branches means no child is in a pigeon-hole.   Any profession, if done well, can earn someone a lot of money.   Former “garbage-men” are running sanitation-management firms, and waste-to-energy companies.  The old-school list that many suburban teens saw 30 years ago (doctor, lawyer, engineer, accountant) is gone, replaced by a huge, and changing list.

Many jobs today didn’t exist 25 years ago.  And many more will exist 25 years FROM now.  Thus the 12-year-old is hard-pressed to zone in on a comfortable rewarding career for age 37.  But there may be no need to “press.” The average 12-year-old today will have two, three or four careers.  Even those who stick to one career will apply it in an average of three to five industries.

The Prescription
Let children explore many facets of childhood life that could turn into careers. Expose them to  different things each summer; let them participate in different activities after school each semester.

Children can explore while still pressing on one or two passions. Ice hockey might be worth playing every semester, but it need not include summers.  Even professional hockey players take four months off. Talented kids can still make an NCAA college hockey team without year-round practice. Cello may be worth playing every semester, and even honed with some summer music experiences, but use two to five summer weeks with new experiences that could lead to a different career.

Recognize that a mundane-sounding “camp” can become a FUN career.  The math expert is more likely to have a career than a cellist; so consider enlisting your child in a summer “fun-math” or “practical math” program. The physical therapist is more likely to have a career than a hockey player; so enlist your child in a CPR / First Aid class for a week.  Even the boring-sounding “Grammar Group” or “Vocabulary & Latin” camp builds the blocks for school success that create great college opportunities, and college is the springboard to a huge variety of careers.

With summer activities, as a general rule, don’t repeat them unless there’s a passion and a talent.  Attend that tennis camp in year two if you are passionate about tennis and have grown your talent in year one.  Otherwise, select another summer activity.  Take the rocketry class for a second summer if you enjoy the building, launching, recovery, and repair of rockets and seem adept at it; otherwise, try a different activity.

Activities for 5 – 15 year old’s should include learning and fun. The teenager will be better poised for the career “pursuit” after the wide exposure in the early years.

As for taking career assessment tests: The “good” is miniscule. Even the slender goodness of categorizing what’s “out there” is overwhelmed by a parent frequently pointing to activities adults actually do and asking “would you like to do THAT?” Early career assessments are thus the last thing a primary school kid needs.

Also by Mark Greenstein:

Tainted Success (?) What happens with my June SAT Score?


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