About Sarah Mattie

Sarah Mattie is a teaching artist exploring options outside of the traditional classroom after 10 years. She has a soft spot in her heart for middle schoolers and is particularly passionate about diversity and equity in education. She lives with her husband and four rescue cats, including a tripod kitty, and loves to listen to podcasts.

I am currently job-hunting outside of education, and I have noticed an interesting trend: jobs requiring a high school diploma are also requiring skills that are not typically on the standard high school curriculum. If your school provides them at all, it is likely that they will end up as elective courses. This includes jobs such as administrative assistant, social media associate, and even positions focusing solely on internal communications or sales, not just jobs that are typically assumed to have specialized needs.

We are slowly embracing the idea that college isn’t for everyone, and that’s wonderful. However, we are not simultaneously embracing the fact that job requirements for high school graduates have changed. While I hope this catches on soon, I would like to put forth some ideas for students and parents to look into, whether or not the students plan to attend college–after all, many of the skills are transferable to college programs, and it’s not uncommon to have a part-time job that isn’t in retail during the college years.

Get on LinkedIn

LinkedIn is a social media site that allows people to make network connections and search for jobs. Getting on there as a young person could have many benefits, but if a parent is not comfortable with their child joining or if that child is under 16 (their minimum age), I highly recommend joining on their behalf. 

Firstly, joining the site gives you the opportunity to look at different types of jobs and their requirements. Let’s say your child is interested in Social Media Marketing as a career. Type that into the search bar and BOOM! A billion jobs pop up. Look through them and jot down notes about common expectations for applicants. Some even include pay rates, which may be helpful during career exploration. See if this position feels right. If it doesn’t, look at something else. This is an opportunity we didn’t have when I was growing up, and I can’t stress enough how valuable this is. 

Secondly, this is an opportunity to network. Not everyone wants to talk to an unknown young person about their futures, but many do. Sending someone a polite message explaining that you are considering their job or a job in their field, but would like to make an informed decision, could render positive results. Some will be glad to talk online, while others may suggest meeting up for a cup of coffee. (Parents, please don’t attend this meeting–if your child can’t drive, drive them, then sit on the total opposite side of the shop. Think of it as a job interview, and be sure your kid dresses the part and follows up with the all-important thank you email!) These networking connections could simply be informational, but they could also result in future opportunities. 

Finally, with LinkedIn’s premium membership, you get free access to a program called Lynda. (Though, check with your local library–they may have this available for free.) Lynda allows you to take courses in a wide variety of topics, entirely online, so you can get a baseline idea of what the skills actually entail.

Take Advanced Computer Classes

When I was a student, I spent elementary, middle, and high school learning how to type and use Microsoft Office. That’s it! While those skills have proven invaluable, and I can type 95 words per minute, desirable traits on many job listings, I find myself falling behind in nearly every other area. I am casting my net wide, and though I have been working in writing and editing since I was fifteen, I am struggling to find a relevant position because most jobs in this field expect me to have basic coding and graphic design experience (particularly HTML and Adobe Creative Suite, respectively) experience–even those that don’t require a degree. While I was a student in my beloved arts throughout my entire high school career, if I had known how important these skills would be in the future, I would have taken these classes in place of a couple of those courses.

Definitely Learn a Foreign Language

Oh my goodness, I cannot stress this enough. So many jobs I have looked at are looking for bilingual candidates in a variety of languages, from Spanish to Mandarin to Haitian Creole. Even when looking for retail jobs, having some knowledge of a foreign language can make your resume stand out; my rudimentary Spanish ability proved invaluable when I worked at a bookstore in high school and college. When it comes to post-high school jobs, the demand is even higher. Four years of a language is more likely to get you that interview.

Enroll in a Communications Course

ANY communications course: public speaking, debate, forensics, general communications–all of these will help. Even jobs that don’t seem like they would include these skills often do. Public speaking can translate to speaking to clients on the phone. Debate and forensics teach you to think on your feet and change your tactics. General communications will prepare you for anything that involves talking to others. Go for it.

Pursue Areas of Interest

By this, I mean any area of interest. Want to learn about carpentry? Do it! It might turn out to be your passion! Theatre? Yep! Same thing! (And there are careers in there, especially in the tech world–the casinos near me are always hiring theatre technicians, and they have really high Glassdoor ratings to boot.) We tend to get focused on courses that are a clear path to college, when in fact, any class can set you on the road to your future. 

In addition to a strict focus on the future, as you get older, it becomes increasingly difficult to find a class that will allow you to learn a new skill, particularly one that wouldn’t be a portion of a long credit/certification program. As a kid, I was lucky to have the opportunity to take theatre, dance, and even a mosaics class. (I was terrible at the latter, but hey, now I know!) As an adult who would like to brush up on some of these topics or learn new things altogether, I am really “riding the struggle bus” to find any that allow learners over sixteen. My local community college offers some (I even got to take a Harry Potter as seen through history course!), but if I wanted to take mosaics again, I would be out of luck.

Final Thoughts

If your school doesn’t offer these or your child’s schedule is full, check into your local library and community colleges. Community college courses aren’t free, and I understand they may not be possible for everyone, but I highly recommend them if they are doable for your family. The library ones will generally be free, though, and free doesn’t mean worse. If they don’t have the subject you’re hoping for, contact the youth programming supervisor and politely and enthusiastically suggest it. They won’t know to look into it until someone says there’s a demand. Libraries are amazing, and the worst they can do is say no! 

Preparing young people for the future, whether that means college or not, is changing rapidly. It’s not enough to know how to use Excel; you need to know how to code. It’s not enough to get your semester of Spanish; you need to be nearly-bilingual. Look at those job listings. Learn what the future really holds. Start learning those skills. I wish I had, and I don’t want anyone else to feel these anxieties and regrets.

Two senior manager reading a resume during a job interview, Employer interviewing to ask young male job seeker for recruitment talking in office.

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