Workshop gives parents information to help their children make career choices

Choosing a career can be a momentous decision for a high school student, but parents are "valuable resources," said Kelly Spinetta, parent involvement coordinator at Dalton High School, who led a session recently to help parents discuss potential careers with their children.

"You need to make plans," Spinetta said. "You can't just start from nothing."

And the more advanced one's degree or degrees, the more in salary he or she can expect to earn, so someone with a college degree will likely earn more than someone with only a high school diploma, Spinetta explained during the "Helping Your Teen Choose a Career" session inside DHS. Furthermore, one's chances of unemployment decrease as one advances in education, so, for example, someone with a master's degree is less likely to be unemployed than someone with only an associate degree.

Parents shouldn't push their children into careers they think best, however, she said. "A career perfect for one person may be totally wrong for another person," so teenagers should complete self-assessment tests to identify interests, aptitudes, abilities and values.

Spinetta handed out self-assessment sheets to all in attendance, and several websites also offer them, including gafutures.org, the website of the Georgia Student Finance Commission.

Once they have completed self-assessments, teens should investigate careers, she said. This can be accomplished in several ways, from talking to experts in the field, to getting related experience via job-shadowing or volunteering.

Health care, science, math, technology and engineering and green jobs are among the current growth industries, according to the United States Department of Labor. Physician assistant, nurse practitioner, statistician and mathematician, medical assistant and wind turbine service technician are all among the top 10 fastest-growing jobs expected for 2016-26.

After finding a career match, a student must proceed to post-high school plans, which will likely entail at least some additional schooling -- perhaps at a four-year university, or a community and technical college, or a career or trade school, or a military academy.

Community and technical colleges typically offer a variety of two-year programs, and students usually can transfer credits to four-year institutions, Spinetta said. Career and trade schools offer short-term, hands-on training, but they can be expensive, and credits generally won't transfer to four-year colleges.

Students considering the military should remember they must pass a physical examination and earn a minimum score on the Armed Services Vocational Aptitude Battery, she said. Apprenticeships are another route, but learning a trade can require anywhere from one to six years, and competition for spots can be fierce.

Finally, for students intent on entering the workforce directly after high school and immediately earning income, there is on-the-job training, but these positions are often minimum wage, with limited possibilities for advancement, Spinetta said. These students should absolutely make a five-year plan to improve their status, because time can quickly slip away, and, "suddenly, it can be 10 years, or 20."

Maria Torres and her daughter, Valentina, a senior at DHS, were among those in attendance, and Maria was taking copious notes to share later with Valentina's sister, Alejandra, and brother, Diego, who complete the set of triplets. Valentina is interested in a career in communications/broadcast journalism, and the workshop only made her "more confident" in her decision, she said. "Since I was a child, I was writing stories, and I really like the speech class I'm in now."

She was among those honored by the school system during this spring's Young Georgia Authors Celebration, and that recognition -- for a poem she wrote describing her friends -- boosted her passion for writing and communication.

The poem was a project for her literature class, and "my teacher liked it," encouraging Valentina to submit it for consideration, she said. That positive feedback "motivated me to keep writing."

She has already started examining colleges for their communications and broadcast journalism offerings, she said. She is fluent in Spanish and English, she knows some Italian, and she plans to learn Portuguese, understanding that being able to speak multiple languages can only help her in the communications arena.

"I think she's going to be a good communications professional," said her mother. "She knows what she wants to be; she's very confident and secure."

Maria Torres especially appreciated the self-assessment information, as well as the lists of popular, growing and in-demand careers, she said. While Alejandra is committed to psychology and Valentina to communications, Diego is deliberating among several possibilities, ranging from international business to the military.

Since the family came to Dalton from Venezuela 11 months ago, all three triplets -- who learned English in Venezuela -- have thrived socially and academically, and everyone in the school system "has been very helpful," Maria Torres said. Alejandra, Diego and Valentina are all on track to graduate with honors this spring, so "I'm a proud mom."

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