Skip trendy jobs; explore underrepresented careers instead

High School Graduation in America

A high school is a place of opportunity. It is an environment where teachers, counselors, and even our peers teach us invaluable skills we can use and apply for the rest of our lives. Along with critical social skills such as active listening, cooperating with others, problem-solving, and time management, the high school environment helps students research and be creative and innovative. We are taught how to set priorities, invest consistent time, effort, and hard work into activities and subjects. In many ways, it prepares us for the real world or success in college.

High school can also be a confusing time for many. Yes, it helps students explore their interests and develop potential career goals. However, for many, it can be overwhelming to figure out what kind of career you should pursue. 

A counselor, teacher, or parent can help you discover your interests and talents. You can then build on it to discover a profession or career path you want to explore. Start with your academic strengths and then determine the majors you may want to pursue in college. If you like physics and calculus, an engineering career would be a good fit. On the other hand, if you enjoy writing prose or poetry, then a writing career or one in journalism may be a better fit. This approach makes sense. However, it is insufficient and lacking. 

First, generation Z students need to recognize the impact of the heavily technology-reliant, knowledge-based economy they will graduate into. Data from the Pew Research Center points to several jobs that will likely disappear over the next decade thanks to robotics and Artificial Intelligence: retail cashier, telemarketer, travel agent, rental car shuttle driver at the airport, and assembly line workers at a factory. 

Even content creators on social media hoping to monetize videos with the help of advertising may need a new business model when a severe recession hits the U.S. economy. It is hard to rely solely on your popularity on TikTok, YouTube, or Instagram when the tech companies making these apps are laying off tens of thousands of workers. A Crunchbase News report has identified that more than 42,000 workers in the U.S. tech sector have been laid off as of mid-September 2022. 

In short, high school students will serve themselves well by steering clear of trendy jobs, opportunities that look worthy of pursuit in the short-term but will not sustain them for the lifespan of a career, which typically lasts three or four decades. In today’s workforce, a college degree becomes extra crucial to success, especially with more and more occupations requiring advanced education. Still, one-third of U.S. high school students choose not to attend college shortly after graduation. 

Traditional approaches to helping high schoolers choose a career or a college major do not include nor account for the gender gaps in our society; this has to change. 

A gender gap is an unfair difference in opportunity between a man and a woman. It may be the gap in access to health care, education, finance, employment, or other areas. A gender wage gap is a difference between what men and women get paid for the same job. A 2021 research study published by the Brookings Institute points to persistent gender gaps in American high school graduation rates.

One of the ways to reduce the gender gap is by incorporating underrepresentation into high schoolers' career counseling. Underrepresentation is a fancy word, but it means jobs and careers that need women at all levels of the organization but have a vast shortage of them. Let's review a few examples. 

Did you know that less than ten percent of career firefighters are women? Data from the National Fire Protection Association shows that this is a field consistently dominated by men. 

Professor Rebecca Lutte, an Associate Professor of the Aviation Institute at the University of Nebraska at Omaha, authored a report titled "Women in Aviation: A Workforce Report 2021 Edition''. This study shows that only 12.6% of women work as aerospace engineers in the U.S. This gender gap can be reduced if more high school girls apply to aerospace engineering or aeronautical/space engineering.    

More high school girls should consider pursuing an "Ag" major in college as less than 10% of leadership positions in U.S. farming and agriculture are women. This gender gap is even grimmer globally. According to ESRI corporation, women comprise 43% of the worldwide agricultural workforce, but only 15% are farm owners. 

A 2018 New York Times article, "Where are all the female architects?" highlights the underrepresentation of women in this critical field. Roughly half of the architecture students are women, but only one in four architects are women, and the rest quit the field. Why is this so? And how can college-bound high school students help bridge this gap? 

In partnership with Bessemer Venture Partners and Salesforce Ventures, Forbes magazine publishes an annual Cloud 100 list of the world's top private cloud companies. Their most recent list, released in August 2022, reveals that only eight out of the 100 CEOs are women. 

This list is merely the tip of the iceberg. Dozens of other professions exist where there is an enormous gender gap between men and women. By incorporating underrepresented professions into our college and career planning, high schoolers can do their part to reduce this inequality. Researching pay gaps and professions with a substantial shortage of females can help guide the college majors we choose to pursue. Girls can help reduce the gender gap by getting into professions dominated by men and showing them we can do the job just as well or even better. 

Change must begin with us.


United States of America