Backpack to Briefcase: How to Have Successful Careers


Ask any parent what they want for their child and, many times, the answer is simply to “be happy.” Dig a little deeper and that happiness is undoubtedly linked to career and financial success. Parents are worried about how best to help their children prepare for entry into a job market where unemployment hovers at 6.3 percent, at best, and career counselor and best-selling author, R. Bill Holland, says, “They should be.”

Holland’s latest book, From Backpack to Briefcase: A Parent’s Guide to Landing Right Side Up in the New Job Market, addresses parents’ concerns about how to help their students. The book is not geared just for the college-bound, which is a good thing considering the recent resurgence in skilled trades and sliding college enrollment. Though parents may worry about their children entering the highly competitive job market, there are options for those committed to helping their students achieve career success.

Is a Four Year Degree the Only Answer?

Since the late 1960s, the American Dream has included higher education as a one-way ticket to career success. High schools, public and private, tout a focus on college preparedness which bolsters the sense that a four-year institution is the only way to have a successful career. But, the U.S. Labor Department projects 8.8 million new skilled trade jobs between 2012 and 2022. This means vocational training at the secondary and even post-secondary level could be valuable for some students. These jobs include healthcare assistance, construction trades, and other service jobs. Many of them require a high school diploma or minimal on-the-job training.

Career and Technical Education in High School

The Association for Career and Technical Education finds that 94 percent of high school students will take courses in the CTE curriculum. The classes can include Business Management, Healthcare, and Information Technology. Students are provided opportunities to participate in yearly job fairs and workshops on how to be best prepared for interviews. Local school districts offer well-developed programs in STEM, healthcare, and skilled trades where students can intern and attain job experience to begin resume-building before they graduate high school.

Whether families decide that vocational or the four-year college model appeals to them, here are some ways that parents can help their student prepare for a career success:

Focus on Natural Interests

Whether a student is 15 or 22, parents are in a position to notice their natural inclinations and abilities. But, there may also be secret desires that a child has yet to share. Holland encourages parents to talk to their children about what excites them and where they see themselves in five or ten years. They should then find ways to engage those interests through volunteering, applying for specialized programs, or finding an internship. Allowing a student to “follow their heart” might be difficult for parents, but passion goes a long way with employers and is the key ingredient according to those who have found career success. “It’s not so much what someone majors in as it is what they learn to do with whatever major they have,” says Dr. Holland.

Networking via Social Media

Gone are the days of strictly face-to-face networking. Professional networking sites like LinkedIn are great for making industry contacts. Even sites like FaceBook, Twitter, and Instagram can help in the career game, but parents would do well to guide their student in that process to make sure content posted is suitable for employers’ eyes.

Career Aptitude Tests

There are free aptitude tests found online such as The MAPP Career Assessment and a career quiz found at The Princeton Review. Results and recommendations from these tests might confirm what a student already knows about themselves or could highlight areas of interest that have not been considered. As with any aptitude test, results should never be considered definitive but used as a helpful tool among other strategies. Parents and their test-takers should remember that interests can and do change over time.

Professional Career Counseling

Career training professionals like Dr. Holland offer seminars, webinars, and one-on-one counseling to provide help with career-building skills. A free download of “5 Career Counseling Tips for Parents” is available from Dr. Holland’s site and can be used as another tool for parents as they begin the adventure with their student in their search for career success and, of course, happiness.




About Author

Lindsay Cowdin

Lindsay Cowdin is a lifelong resident of Fort Worth, Texas, and a current undergraduate student at TCU. She has a background in accounting and office management that spans almost 20 years in the fields of construction as well as education. She enjoys being surrounded by creativity in motion and is grateful to have found a home in theatre where she can put her problem-solving and accounting skills to good use and also wear black every day.

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