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Your advice... Choosing a Profession
Old 02-21-2013, 09:48 AM   #1
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Your advice... Choosing a Profession

As I watch the rise of some professions, and the decline of others... and, with two grandchildren who will enter college in the next two years, I am wondering what advice I could offer in choosing a path to the future.

Looking back over 60 years since making the college choice myself, there have been so many ups and downs in professional relevance that the crystal ball gets cloudy. So much has changed... (and is still changing) that the accepted safety of many disciplines may not be there within the next 10 to 30 years. Even those professions that have seemed sacrosanct... Law, Architecture, Finance and Medicine, are under pressure from over subscription to the point that some specialty schools are having trouble attracting new applicants.

If you were at the point of advising an educational pathway for a 17 year old, what direction(s) would you point to... for satisfaction and security?
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Old 02-21-2013, 10:13 AM   #2
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I think in many ways it is the same as when I was that age. I think you need to do what you love/enjoy tempered by a realistic assessment of what you want to earn and how you want to live.

When I was that age, my top choice was a profession that I would have loved but had low earnings. I decided that I didn't want to be poor so I moved on to my second choice, which is something I enjoyed but was much more lucrative. No regrets.

Though since that time I have come to realize that to some extent, if you are really top-notch at what you do that in most cases the rewards will follow.

So in summary, follow your heart but use your head.
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Old 02-21-2013, 10:33 AM   #3
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In general, engineers are in demand. EE here, with a heavy slant toward computer related jobs. It was easy to stay employed for 35+ years and still looks good for the next few years.
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Old 02-21-2013, 10:35 AM   #4
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My dad imposed strings on his offer to pay for a public school education. We had to show our job prospects upon graduation. He tweaked this by the time I got to school... after my brother majored in architecture (which looked good until you dug into the details that you're not licensed till about 10 years out of school, and are paid crap until then.).

I wanted to be a political science major - it was my interest... my passion. But couldn't show the job potential. He declined to pay for that major. I ended up in engineering... which was a good fit.

The talk is all about STEM these days. And there will continue to be a demand... but I think you also have to look at the global workforce... some jobs are less likely to be outsourced and pay very well. (Nursing comes to mind). Some jobs will continue to be needed, but might not be exciting... accounting/finance... actuarial science... etc.

I'm not sure I'd push my kids into electrical engineering or computer science... the trend is to outsourcing that now. But other engineering fields seem pretty robust (structural, civil, etc.)
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Old 02-21-2013, 10:45 AM   #5
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The talk is all about STEM these days. And there will continue to be a demand... but I think you also have to look at the global workforce... some jobs are less likely to be outsourced and pay very well. (Nursing comes to mind). Some jobs will continue to be needed, but might not be exciting... accounting/finance... actuarial science... etc.

I'm not sure I'd push my kids into electrical engineering or computer science... the trend is to outsourcing that now. But other engineering fields seem pretty robust (structural, civil, etc.)
I agree with the above. There is huge pressure on electrical and computer engineering/science from outsourcing. I'm glad I went into it, but also glad it was nearly 30 years ago. If it were today, I'd choose something else that involved math or science.

My nephew switched in college from engineering to accounting due to the outsourcing issues. I'm not so sure accounting is bulletproof from outsourcing in the long run either!
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Old 02-21-2013, 10:53 AM   #6
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Another thing to watch for is which fields require a Masters or PhD to get a job. Most science fields are like that.

One of my friends (an engineer) has just finished putting 3 kids through college. 2 went into engineering (Civil and Aerospace), and both are employed with a BS. The third did psychology, couldn't get a job, and now is doing a masters in Library science, which is probably all IT these days.

My nephew graduated in education and Spanish, so he is now involved with bilingual education. I seem to recall that for business people, foreign language WILL be a necessity. And possibly that language is Chinese or Spanish. I went with French, but since I never worked in Quebec, it did not help me much.
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Old 02-21-2013, 10:56 AM   #7
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I'm still looking for the flying car certified mechanics ;-)
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Old 02-21-2013, 12:06 PM   #8
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In general, engineers are in demand. EE here, with a heavy slant toward computer related jobs. It was easy to stay employed for 35+ years and still looks good for the next few years.
A fellow I know with a Masters in EE hasn't been able to find work in over a year. Maybe it's geographical.
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Old 02-21-2013, 12:20 PM   #9
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One of the great advantages of the U.S. educational system over many others (eg. most European systems ) is its breadth. University degrees in the U.S. are very broad and typically during the first two years of college one can take courses on a wide range of subjects before deciding on their final major.

IMHO, making use of that privilege is key... I would advise them to study a for a broad degree (eg if they are interested in engineering, something like industrial/manufacturing engineering would be a broad engineering degree) and make full use of their ability to take courses in other, unrelated areas in their first one or two years. Once they are more mature and decided on a more specific career, they can always study more specialized subjects at the graduate or professional level ( in fact, at the rate at which knowledge builds up, they should really expect and practice lifelong learning ). Same goes for the basic sciences - Physics or Biology provide excellent general foundation on which either to build more specialized knowledge, or move in a totally different direction through an MBA program after some working experience.
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Old 02-21-2013, 12:24 PM   #10
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If you were at the point of advising an educational pathway for a 17 year old, what direction(s) would you point to... for satisfaction and security?
I've been at that point a few times. While there is no definitive data on the average number of times people change careers in a lifetime (because there is no concensus agreement on what a "career change" is), it's happened at least once, and often more times, to everyone I know -- self & DW included.

I guess my point (and advice) is, college is a starting point. Kids are expected to choose what they'll do for the rest of their lives, and practically speaking, that is seldom what happens. In the "real world", eyes are opened, dreams disillusioned, selfs found, and other career interests/paths develop. Satisfaction is important, money is nice, but IMO security is a myth; a bygone concept/era of the Greatest Generation.

I expect a lot of mileage variation, but that's my $.03 (adjusted for inflation).

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Old 02-21-2013, 12:50 PM   #11
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Though that may be redundant.
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Old 02-21-2013, 12:54 PM   #12
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I've been at that point a few times. While there is no definitive data on the average number of times people change careers in a lifetime (because there is no concensus agreement on what a "career change" is), it's happened at least once, and often more times, to everyone I know -- self & DW included.

I guess my point (and advice) is, college is a starting point. Kids are expected to choose what they'll do for the rest of their lives, and practically speaking, that is seldom what happens. In the "real world", eyes are opened, dreams disillusioned, selfs found, and other career interests/paths develop. Satisfaction is important, money is nice, but IMO security is a myth; a bygone concept/era of the Greatest Generation.

I expect a lot of mileage variation, but that's my $.03 (adjusted for inflation).

Tyro

I'm actually on completely different career number 3 (#6 in you count sub-areas of the three fields).

I was at a college alumni meeting a couple years ago where, during the introductions, a new engineering graduate said something about wanting to work in the field he studied, which got a big enough group laugh that the we did a quick poll, and literally everyone (all engineers) that was at least 10 years past graduation was no longer directly in their field of study. Many had moved to management, but many found other creative ways to use their engineering background.
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Old 02-21-2013, 01:48 PM   #13
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Hmmm. I must be doing something wrong. 25 years, still doing embedded software/firmware.

Husband is similar - 30+ years as an architect, doing the same area of focus. (Commercial, medical, hospitals, hospitality)

My sister's on her 3rd career, though. As is her husband. So I guess they skew the averages.
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Old 02-21-2013, 01:59 PM   #14
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Retired civil engineer here; managed water and sewer utilities for cities. I've recommended to several, particularly the operations and maintenance of same. Water is becoming an increasingly scarce commodity here and worldwide. Basic design is "offshorable" but running the systems, maintaining is not. Quality standards for drinking water and wastewater treatment continue to escalate, driving costs and improvements. Meanwhile sources less available. While huge challenges in US, nothing compared to developing world where they already have destroyed much of the water sources from a quality (and quantity) standpoint. In local government, the public safety sector gets all the accolades and insured budgets, but the water and sewer is so tightly regulated by state and feds that it too is pretty much immune to the cutbacks in things like parks, libraries, even transportation. Regs now pretty much prevent ignoring maintenance and deferring capital rehab. That wasn't the case until recently. So I'd say its a pretty good bet that this will be a solid, if not glamorous, career choice. I do have some good sewage stories!

Just remembered what a grizzled old civil engineer told me when I started out...while chemical, ee, and others can have times of steak we civils always can put hamburger on the table. Both my kids went chemical (as was my Dad). Daughter is now using her PhD to raise three kids, son is doing basically civil in Africa managing an irrigation development project. He does very well, and enjoys if for most part. No matter what a job pays, if you are miserable its no way to spend so much of your life. That's why I changed jobs 7 times.
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Old 02-21-2013, 02:06 PM   #15
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As others in this thread have pointed out, stay flexible for first 1-2 years of college. I would recommend taking general STEM courses, assuming they are so inclined. There are lot of inter-disciplinary programs these days, lot of them involving computers in traditional degrees (neuroscience and data; genetics + analytics, etc). The key is to enroll in a college whose faculty have a strong industry network. It helps doing 'real world' class projects with faculty who are already working with industry. It also comes in handy for internships and getting jobs. Unless they want to go in academia and theoretical research afterwards. I am amazed these days by the knowledge of some of the students graduating from some of the Bay Area universities and the cross-functional projects they are exposed to before they graduate.
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Old 02-21-2013, 02:06 PM   #16
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Youngest DS switched into Information Assurance. It looks to have a nice growth trajectory for the foreseeable future. And many of those jobs can't be outsourced.

But other than specific fields, the best advice is to look for the combination of lifestyle and enjoyment that works for you.
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Old 02-21-2013, 02:12 PM   #17
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Old 02-21-2013, 03:11 PM   #18
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Since I have kids between the ages of 16 and 21 this is a subject near and dear to my heart.

I think there are really 3 factors that are most important, in pretty much this order for anyone considering this issue.

1. What are you interested in? What do you want to do?

While the inquiry does not stop here - at all - for life satisfaction this is key. For many people, this is also necessary to success. Some people can succeed (but be unhappy) in a career that they don't like. Many people can't stick with and succeed with a course of study that is uninteresting.

My son took Algebra at 10, calculus at 13, and is academically gifted in math. Everyone has always told him to major in something math/science related. But - he hates math and tolerates science at best. On paper he should major in something math/science/technical. In the real world, he can barely tolerate the required courses in those subjects to obtain a liberal arts degree.

My daughter does not like academic work. She doesn't like reading, or writing, or doing math problems or studying science. She could go to college, but she has no - and I mean no - interest in going to college.

The good news is that there are lots of careers out there that require a bachelor's degree.

I am not advocating, by the way, that students remain unskilled. I do remind everyone that some people are interested in jobs that involve training that doesn't require a 4 year degree.

2. What are you good at? What are you capable of doing?

I might think that physics is interesting and I was one of only 2 female students in my entire high school who took physics back in the day. But - while I did OK in high school physics - I am not particular good at physics. It would not be good for me to choose a field where I have no special talent.

It is better for someone to be an outstanding carpenter or outstanding lawyer than to be a mediocre engineer.

Bear in mind that not everyone is capable of doing every job - even through trying hard. Some people don't have the intellectual capability to earn a PhD in physics or to become a capable attorney. The person who becomes a capable attorney might never be able to earn a PhD in physics and vice versa.

3. What kind of living can you earn with the field?

Many people want to put this number 1 on this list. I barely put it on the list at all. I think that you can earn a living with almost any career. I think that this is most important in deciding what you will spend to obtain your education in the field. The person who ends up with $100,000 in student loans and obtains a social work degree has not made a good decision given the income prospects in that field.

I think that students need to be aware of the expected income for the fields that person is interested in. We homeschool our daughter (she is in 11th grade) and we are doing a career planning class right now. Part of what we are researching deals with the income of various jobs. Another thing we are looking at is how likely is it that the field will exist long-term and how likely is it that the job won't be outsourced.

However, I don't think that the income that a field can bring to you should ever outweigh factors 1 and 2.

imoldernu - My son started community college at 16 since he graduated high school early. We've been glad that he did since he has changed what he plans to do with his life at least 5 times in the last 2 1/2 years. He is 18 now and still doesn't really know what he wants to do when he grows up. One thing we have encouraged him to do early in his college career is try to take a wide variety of college courses and see what lights his fire and what he is good at. After starting with psychology, moving to English, then to business, then to accounting, ....he is now back to English (and possibly law school at the end). It surely isn't what I would have advised him when he started college, but it is what he has most enjoyed and what he does well in. He turned away from it for reason 3, but is now moving back to it.
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Old 02-21-2013, 03:25 PM   #19
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Couple pf thoughts.

First is the old saying "If you love what you do you will never work a day in your life"

now, more concrete than that....

Plastics

And my real answer - finance. I am a retired bean counter. The father of the managing partner of the first place I worked at after graduation pointed out that with an accounting / finance background "you can always find work". He was right.
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Old 02-21-2013, 04:02 PM   #20
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The father of the managing partner of the first place I worked at after graduation pointed out that with an accounting / finance background "you can always find work". He was right.
Sure...but you have to like and be good at that kind of work. If you don't like it and/or you aren't good at it then it won't be a good choice.....
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