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The launch: Parents prepare for child's transition to independence

Published: Sunday, Oct. 14 2012 3:00 p.m. MDT

A good education might land a job, but those who can't communicate, work with others and show creativity probably won't keep one.

Parents and policymakers often neglect career development and exploration, said DeWitt. In middle school, he believes kids should be exposed to careers and what they mean, seeing people with good work ethics and knowing that's how one supports a family. Should a child express interest in health care, for instance, discuss the steps to such a career.

"Just about every single student needs to plan on some kind of further education after high school," said Livingston. "The thought that a diploma is a terminal degree is 45 years out of date. That's hard for some families to accept."

Not locked in

It doesn't mean kids in middle school have to pick a career. In college, there's time to change. "There's a difference between not being certain precisely what career path you want to follow and not having imagined any career path," Livingston said.

Today's kids will have many careers, experts agree. "Not just doing similar things at different places," he said. "Completely different careers are going to be common for them."

Programs must reflect evolving job needs and universal skills, DeWitt said. Those who fare best are those with an idea of what they want to do and who get targeted education for that. Kids who have work experience, though limited, have a leg up; it demonstrates employability skills. "It's fine to explore" and change your mind, he said. "But obtain work skills that translate across jobs."

Like Brooke Morgan, Holly Morgan has a plan. At 15, she participates in the Miss America program's teen division. The youths must have a platform, a talent and be articulate, said Roger Morgan, her dad. "It really requires that girls have thought through what want to do when they grow up," he said.

Holly is moving toward being a wedding planner, said Roger Morgan, who recently left a career to start his own pet-products business.

That his oldest daughters know what they want to do is not happenstance. He and his wife, Susan, went to college and expect their kids to. They have meticulously demonstrated good work ethics and decision-making. Having a framework for that early is important.

"In business and in life, the way to make the best decision is by experience," he said. Kids lack experience. So the Morgans taught theirs to reach out to people with qualities and jobs and interests to which they're attracted. If you think you want to be in a career, find people and ask for advice, he said. They have been "learning from an early age to start building a set of relationships they can use as proxy when they make decisions."

Jared Dickson is a good student who plays sports, though he's not a born athlete. "That's not his route in" to college, said his mom, who has a college degree. So does his dad, a teacher. Randy Dickson also runs a tree business; his children often go along to earn money and have learned to work hard.

Often scholarships are given for other things than academics, and Jared is well-rounded. He's a Scout, a Big Brother and more. If he doesn't understand something at school, he asks his teachers. Little sisters Allison and Lainey, 14 and 13, are learning the same lessons.

Livingston encourages students monthly to fill in blanks. They can change, but it sharpens focus and brings goals to mind. "When I am 25, I am going to live in (blank), paying rent or living in (blank) and working at (blank)," he said.

It's all about the plan.

EMAIL: lois@desnews.com, Twitter: Loisco

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