High school is a great time for career exploration



This week, employers from the I-69 Thumb Region gathered together with the common goal of highlighting careers that are or will be in high demand for our region. Coordinated by GST Michigan Works!, MiCareerQuest East provided more than 3,000 students with the chance to speak with professionals and learn what it’s like to work in advanced manufacturing, health care, construction and other in-demand sectors.

This kind of broad career exploration plays an important role in prompting young people to consider careers they may have otherwise overlooked. This is especially true for the skilled trades, where’s there’s a growing disconnect between the number of jobs and talent in Michigan. Considering that these sectors will account for more than 500,000 jobs in our state by 2024, it’s important that today’s students understand they are just as strong an option as a four-year college degree.

But as they say, “you don’t know what you don’t know,” and many young people are unaware of the opportunities afforded by jobs in the professional trades, such as CNC machinists and pipefitters. To be fair, so are most adults. They don’t know that skilled trades occupations come with a median annual salary of $54,000 or that they often incur little to no education-related debt.

That’s why events like MiCareerQuest and Manufacturing Day, which was recognized nationally Oct. 4, are so important. They provide an opportunity to learn about in-demand career paths that students can follow right here in Genesee County and the greater region.

These broad career exploration opportunities are best complemented by programs like TeenQuest, which focus on developing the soft skills that are needed to succeed in any field. Because once teens understand what’s required of them in today’s workforce and what opportunities are available to them, they’re ready to begin a more focused career exploration. Locally, for instance, students with a strong interest in the medical and health-related professions may opt to swap a traditional high school experience for Genesee Early College, where they can earn both high school diploma and up to 60 transferable credits toward their college degree.

Additionally, Genesee County teens can learn competitive hard skills, such as welding and computer-aided design (CAD), at Genesee Career Institute. They can also gain real-world work experience through the Summer Youth Initiative. Both programs give young people an opportunity to learn what they like and don’t like through hands-on experiences, while simultaneously building the muscles required to succeed in any career field. This includes skills such as workplace etiquette, teamwork and communication.

When students start exploring career options and interests in high school, they get a leg up on their competition. By the time they graduate, they have a stronger understanding of what’s available and are better prepared to make informed decisions. And everyone—from the student to the employers to the local economy—stands to benefit from that.

Kristina Johnston is COO of the Flint & Genesee Chamber of Commerce.