As high schoolers are encouraged to go to college, and college graduates are encouraged to pursue a rewarding academic career, less and less jobs are available for newly graduated people. Nine percent of males ages 20 to 24 with a bachelor’s degree or higher are unemployed, while women in the same age range and with comparable credentials have an unemployment rate of 12 percent. This seems like a strangely high unemployment rate for a group of people who have spent a good portion of their lives studying for a career.
Our culture has stigmatized a large portion of the workforce. High school students are strongly encouraged to go to college after graduation, making technical and trade careers seem menial. As an increasing number of students strive for academic or business careers, graduates are competing for very few job openings. When was the last time a kindergarten student or senior in high school aspired to be a dental hygienist? If money is the marker of success, then our students need better schooling on the possibilities out in the workforce. The average annual salary of a dental hygienist with an associate’s degree is over $70,000, whereas a paleontologist with a PhD earns an average starting salary closer to $50,000.
There is also a disconnect between higher education requirements and what employers are looking for in the “real world.” The current education system does not always aim to prepare for life and a career so much as it requires the student to memorize information and become knowledgeable on certain subjects. And so we see the resurgence in the perceived value of a liberal arts education. Employers are focusing on and searching for the skills honed by a liberal arts education, such as strong communication and problem solving, but they are also looking for practical skills or experience that recent graduates lack.
All of these reasons speak to the noticeable increase in difficulty for young people entering the workforce to find a job. How do we lower the unemployment rate for young professionals? Does it start in high school with better guidance on education options or does it start with employers having a better understanding and explanation of what makes an employee successful in different professions?