Tag Archives: work

Dear High School Guidance Counselor….

school yard

original image credit: Francisco Galarza via unsplash.com

I know it’s your job to “guide” students. I get the impression that you believe it’s your job to direct them toward college-no matter the expense or their interest in going.

I understand you met with a group of Juniors the other day during their English class. You had them enter their email addresses on a site that asked them a litany of questions to help them decide what to study in college.

Is it true that you told the kids who don’t plan to go to college to reconsider? Did you also tell them not to answer something stupid (your word) like “be a nanny” on questions about their plans after high school?

I won’t take that remark personally even though my daughter has told you on several occassions that she plans to nanny when she graduates in order earn money to pursue other goals. You probably weren’t interested enough to learn that she’s a gifted, conscientious and engaged child-care provider who loves to be with kids of all ages. She tells them stories, plans projects and crafts, invents games, fixes meals and reads with them. In short, she’s happy when she’s with her younger cousins or small clients. I think hers is an excellent plan that will provide a lot of flexibility. Before you go there, no, she doesn’t want to be a teacher. She doesn’t want to watch 25-30 kids at a time, just a few.

My daughter has a keen understanding of her interests, skills, gifts, strengths and weaknesses. She’s lucky that she doesn’t need a computer program for that. My guess is that lots of kids know these things about themselves but when they try to communicate them to you, you don’t really listen to them. Instead, you dismiss their ideas and try to pigeon-hole them into a pre-defined, acceptable major or career.

Being a nanny isn’t “stupid”. High-quality child care is a valuable service. Responsible and experienced providers are in demand and can earn a lucrative income and unique experiences all without the burden of debt. Many full-time nannies can earn more than their college-educated peers and enjoy benefits like free housing, meals, transportation (including discretionary access to a car), all-expense-paid vacations and paid vacation time.

My daughter and I have spent a lot of time discussing how she can develop her interests and skills to create a career, multiple streams of income and a lifestyle that she chooses.  Regardless of whether someone else regards it as successful, acceptable or adequate.

The job you decided to mock is irrelevant. My point is, it’s unprofessional and narrow-minded to dismiss certain occupations or paths to a fulfilling life. Your job is to support students and help them find every resource available to pursue an idea, a vocation, a career or a dream even if it doesn’t align with your idea of a respectable profession. Steering a diverse group of students down one, narrow path doesn’t serve them, even if it does serve your ego.

Did you know that 40% of students drop out of college without a degree? Do you think maybe they were steered toward college as the only option by people like you?  Yes, I’m suggesting you’re partially to blame. Do you ever advise students who are unsure about their future to work for a few years or go to community college?

Did you know that some of your students borrow as much as $80,000 for an undergraduate degree?  The average student debt for a college education is $37,000. Do you think that’s advisable? I don’t.

One more thing. Quit sharing my kids’ email addresses with colleges and military recruiters. Even kids who are interested in college don’t want to be spammed by them. My kids know where to enlist if they decide to go that route.

I was tempted to email you about this recent presentation but decided against it because my children are insulated from your narrow views and I realize I will not change your mind or your tactics. They know they have my support and encouragement to pursue any path or no path and work until they figure something out. Some will likely go to college but probably not with much assistance from you.

Yours truly.

Why I Regret Starting a 529 Plan for My Kids

why-not-to-save-in-a-529-plan

Let’s be clear: I don’t regret saving for the kids’ future. I regret limiting that fund for college.

Like many young parents, Mark and I were anxious to start saving for college. A 529 plan was the no-brainer option at the time. The fund grows tax-free and as long as the money is used for a “qualified education expense”, the interest is never taxed. There can also be state tax deductions for contributions.

So, here’s why I regret saving in a 529: There are so many valuable and practical ways to learn outside of college that can’t be funded by a 529 without paying taxes and penalties on the interest.

Nineteen years ago (the year Hannah was born), college appeared to be the only and best way to have a career and wasn’t nearly as expensive. In 1996, 52% of Bachelor’s degree recipients carried student loans averaging $12,000 (which is the same amount I graduated from college with in 1990). Today, at least 71% of college graduates have student loans averaging $37,000.

In contrast to the 1990s, high school students can begin to teach themselves skills that add value to a fast-paced, global economy. College is required for some professions (academia, law, medicine) but isn’t for many others.

Apprenticeship programs, gap years, online certification programs, fellowships, world travel and small business opportunities are all valuable and practical alternatives to college that can’t be paid for with 529 funds without penalty.

[tweetthis display_mode=”box”]529s are a subsidy for institutions that are overcharging and under-delivering.[/tweetthis]  They’re one form of university welfare. The other forms are private loans, grants and government-subsidized loans. Students aren’t really the beneficiaries of these forms of assistance when a degree doesn’t guarantee a job or skills that employers say are lacking in most college graduates. (Don’t believe me, read this book about the skills gap).

Hannah graduated from high school and has no plans to attend college. Instead, she’s participating in a program that matches highly motivated young people with a small business or startup willing to train them.

Praxis charges tuition but boasts a net-zero cost because the total payment is less than the guaranteed pay the participant receives from the business partner during the apprenticeship. In addition to skills training, Praxis offers one-on-one mentorship, weekly group discussions and guidance on personal and professional development projects. Every participant has a tangible body of work to show potential employers at the conclusion of the program. The Praxis model has been so effective that business partners now commit to a full-time offer with a minimum salary of $40,000 for participants. No college will guarantee that.

By the time her classmates graduate, Hannah will likely have saved as much or more than they have borrowed in the same time period. She’ll be earning as much or more and she’ll likely be living on her own. Compared to other 18-34-year-olds, who, for the first time ever, are living with parents more than any other living arrangement.

So, what to do with all that money we saved for college? We could transfer the 529 to one of Hannah’s siblings.  We put that money aside for Hannah, though, and frankly, I’d rather see it go to photo equipment (Hannah’s business), studio space, even a car, than an over-priced college.

Even though she’ll pay taxes (at her rate) and a 10% penalty on the interest, we’ve decided to use the money in Hannah’s 529 plan to pay the tuition for Praxis. The interest and penalty combined don’t compare to the interest that most students will end up paying for the lifetime of the loans they’re taking.

I’m not so put-off by the taxes owed because if we had it in any other type of fund, we would have been paying taxes on the interest all along. The penalty stings a little since she’s using the money for a program that has a guaranteed ROI and is tens of thousands less than college would have been.

Hopefully, 529 rules will expand with growing opportunities in our rapidly-changing world that make more sense than college. Any changes will likely come too slowly to help my children.

I’m not sure what will happen when the college bubble finally pops. Likely, even those who opt out will be stuck holding the bag. University Provosts everywhere will continue to receive their bloated salaries or maybe they’ll run for the hills taking their golden parachutes with them.

Rethink opening that 529. There are other ways to save in a high-growth fund for a minor. You can still use that money for college but you’ll have other options.

Creativity in an Uncreative Career

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Photo Credit: Volkan Olmez | Unsplash.com

I recently had a chat with a young neighbor (22) who just finished up a year-long internship toward her certification as a Registered Dietician. She still has to take an exam to be official.

When I heard that she moved to Memphis for an internship in a VA hospital (apparently, they’re hard to find), I remember being impressed that she was willing to get out of her comfort zone by moving away from the safety net of her family and a city that she loves. Now that it’s over, she told me the best part about the internship was realizing that she doesn’t want to be in a hospital setting. I see that as a win and extremely valuable.

What surprised me is that her supervisors and co-workers continued to steer her into a hospital setting even though she was sure she didn’t like it. “Gotta pay your dues.” “Maybe you can eventually get into an admin position.” “Anything else takes years of experience to qualify.”

In other words, the conventional, “safe” path is so narrow….even for an RD. From what my friend was saying, it looks something like this:

  1. Hospital planning gross institutional meals for sick people. (Did you want Sprite with that meatloaf?)
  2. Some other institutional situation when you get burned out from the first job.

Look around, people, we’re living in a society suffering from an epidemic of obesity, unhealth, and non-nutrition. It doesn’t take much creativity to apply an interest in health and nutrition, a passion for food and cooking (this young woman started her own cooking blog in high school) and a B.S. in Nutrition and Dietetics to a non-hospital setting.

Luckily my friend is creative and looked beyond the barriers that her colleagues were putting in front of her. During her last week in Memphis, she reached out to an entrepreneur in Birmingham who prepares and delivers ready-made meals (including Paleo, gluten-free and dairy-free) for clients ranging from families to young professionals to seniors. The subscription options include hot dinners, microwave-ready lunches, weekly breakfasts, snacks and drinks.

Business is booming in Birmingham and the owner wants my friend’s help to expand into Nashville. She’s moving to Birmingham next week to start. Although the job doesn’t require a degree, it won’t hurt when creating new menus for health-conscious customers with specific nutritional needs. Whether the business is something she’ll be passionate about a year from now, she’ll get a first-hand look at running a high-energy business in an unfamiliar city (cities). It’s what I call 3-D learning in real time. Plus she’ll have an outlet for her creative side.

I so admire this young person’s courage in creating a unique opportunity for herself that rejects narrow-minded conventions. Good Luck to her and I’ll keep you posted on other cool things that young people are doing to take life and work into their own hands.

Summer Jobs and Boot Camp

Breakfast-in-PPG-Plaza

Photo credit: Kate Phillips

How’s your summer going? Mine has been SLOW so far and I love it.

I’m enjoying a much-needed respite from caregiving (s/o to my mom).

Hannah and Luke are both working. I thought that would be challenging with the car situation but it’s worked out for the most part and I can always borrow my mom’s car if I need to.

Mark and I almost bought a granny car (Toyota with 50,000 miles in pristine condition for $4,000-but didn’t scoop it up in time). I always wanted a granny car.

Kate signed up for a week-long acting boot camp. Five days, downtown from 9-4. She’s taking the bus every day so it’s like a job. She and I took a ride on the bus the day before her class started so I could show her where to catch it to get home.

As much as I would love Hannah to take a bus to the restaurant once in a while just to get familiar with it, so far she hasn’t had to. It’s a valuable skill but Kate will likely be the only one of my kids who regularly takes public transportation before she flies the coop. She has no interest in driving yet so she’ll need public transportation.

Sometimes I daydream about how autonomous cars would have been great for activities a few years ago. Shuttling for the better part of an afternoon has been my least favorite thing about parenting. Now that Hannah and Luke can drive themselves, I’ve been relieved of it a little but then you have the worry. I’m not an excessive worrier but am always grateful when everyone is home safe. That was a random aside, but this is my blog and nobody reads it, so whatever.

Back to Kate and the boot camp. I knew she would like it and learn a lot but I also knew that it would be tiring. She’s pretty wiped out at the end of the day. It’s just a little longer than school but I think being in summer mode has a little to do with it. It makes me wonder how she and Hannah survived the long days at the charter school. The commute was 3 hours round trip. They left the house before 7 and didn’t get home until after 5.

I know some kids love going to activity summer camps but they never appealed to me for my kids. I guess the break would have been nice but I couldn’t imagine the kids being anywhere all day long in the summer-even for a week. I just pictured them being sweaty and tired all day and exhausted when they got home so I never even asked whether they wanted to do it.

It’s different for Kate. She’s old enough to handle it and I completely left it up to her whether she wanted to do it. I think she’s glad she did and next week she can get back to being bored. She’s trying to get a job but so far no luck. I’m surprised that so many mall stores won’t hire kids younger than 18. When did that happen?

Hannah Graduated!

So, this happened last week…..

Hannah Phillips graduate

Here’s another because I love flying mortar boards………

carlynton-commencement-2016

Hannah has been ready to graduate forever. Senioritis kicked in somewhere in the middle of her junior year. She had a great senior year, though. She met some great kids and teachers and in the background created some super cool opportunities for herself.

By April she had 4 jobs in addition to her own business. Including teaching tennis to little kids, waiting tables at a local restaurant, working the desk at municipal tennis courts and got herself on the media team of the Pittsburgh Thunderbirds, a local semi-pro ultimate disc (frisbee) team. The kid just finds opportunities and goes after them.

Some cool opportunities find her, too. She helped a local podcaster video his interview of the mayor last week (the podcaster guy plays for the Thunderbirds-see how things happen?). She’s doing design work for another guy who started a snapchat geo filter business, she’s painting murals for other local businesses and she’ll be apprenticing the CEO at a marketing/ad agency in the city.

Funny, while she was in school and before she had 5 jobs, she would nap as soon as she walked in the door after school and as much as possible on weekends. When she had all those jobs (she’s not teaching tennis in the summer and she has limited her shifts at the tennis center) she hardly ever napped. Partly because she had less time but also because the work gave her energy. Now that she’s out of school and her work schedule is less hectic, she hardly ever naps. School drained her energy and not in that good, constructive way.

I thought I would feel a tiny bit sad or nostalgic that Hannah isn’t heading off to college in the fall, but truthfully, I’m relieved. I loved my college experience but things are so different now. The “college experience” is too expensive, course work isn’t leading to jobs and the higher risk of being assaulted on a college campus compared to working in the real world is pretty terrifying.

I’m actually looking forward to standing back and watching what Hannah makes happen in the next year. She’s anxious to live on her own and I have no doubt that she could do that sooner than later if she gets organized.

I had a few interesting conversations at a graduation party for my neighbor this weekend. Two young professionals I spoke to admit that they wish they had gone to community college for two years instead of a four year college because of the debt. The graduate’s sister just earned her bachelor’s in Marketing and can’t find a job. Funny, Hannah will be working at a marketing agency in September, apprenticing the CEO without a degree and the debt that comes with it. My point is, I couldn’t be more content with Hannah’s future plans and the opportunities she’s taking advantage of because she’s NOT committed to a college.

Maybe It’s Time to Question Our Sacred Cows

This TED talk by Mike Rowe is graphic but you can handle it. Rowe is the host of “Dirty Jobs” on the Discovery channel and he’s committed to bringing dignity to work by showing some of the most dangerous and well, dirty jobs.

He wonders whether we’ve declared war on work and suggests that we question platitudes like “follow your passion”.

Since enrollment in trade schools continually decreases, he wonders whether there will be enough skilled workers to fill the jobs needed to rebuild the country’s infrastructure.

The mike rowe WORKS foundation promotes hard work and supports skilled trades through a trade school scholarship program. Rowe also wrote a book to promote the trades and to raise money for the foundation scholarships. “Profoundly Disconnected” was only available on the foundation website when it was published but that button takes you to the eBay auction page. Amazon’s prices seem to be more reasonable so I included it here. If you find out that the book is available somewhere that would benefit the foundation, please let me know so I can change the link.

 

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