How to Build a Career Right Out of High School

A college degree can open doors to interesting positions, good careers and higher incomes. However, college may not be the best path for every person. Starting a career right out of high school can be satisfying, productive and lucrative.

In fact, the United States has 30 million jobs that pay an average of $55,000 annually – and do not require a college degree – according to one study from Georgetown University. In addition, the National Center for Education Statistics reports that those with career and technical educations are slightly more like to be employed than those with academic or occupational credentials.

The current shortage of tradespeople translates to a huge opportunity for students coming out of high school to embark on excellent career paths. Sound interesting? Review these tips for how to start building a career right out of high school.

Assess your skills and interests. Start by taking a good self-inventory. Think about the classes you’ve liked best or found inspiring. Define things you’ve done – at school, in a part-time job, in your family – that gave you great satisfaction, and why they did. Make a list of your major strengths, weaknesses and characteristics.

From these honest assessments, try to make connections between them. Maybe several elements relate to technology, or social activities, or arts. You then can start to identify the kinds of careers and companies that fit those interests and skills.

Do your homework. Armed with a better picture of your “career self,” do some research to learn what different careers are all about. Start learning about careers online, and try to talk to people working in fields that interest you.

Contact local community colleges. These two-year schools often are the catalysts and best resources around for technical, vocational and career classes and programs. In many communities, local businesses partner with schools to help build programs that train high school graduates in fields ranging from welding to nursing. Get online or call local schools to see what they offer.

Consider an apprenticeship. These educational programs combine classroom training and on-site workplace learning. You’ll be paid during the program, and you’ll almost always be guaranteed a job with the employer that invested in your training. Plus, apprentices often are placed on defined career paths. In many cases, apprentices also can earn college credits toward an associate’s degree.

Many apprenticeships are partnerships between employers and local community colleges. Apprentices learn under the guidance of experienced craft workers in skilled occupations. These might include computer operator, machinist, bricklayer, dental laboratory technician, tool-and-die maker, electrician, drafter, electronic technician, operating engineer and maintenance mechanic. You can find apprentice programs through the U.S. Department of Labor’s Office of Apprenticeship and in your state at the Department of Labor’s List of State Apprenticeships.

Find a company that offers a career path. For people who may want to test out a variety of areas, working in a few different jobs at different companies is one option. But it’s also possible to find an employer willing to train you and work with you to develop a career path. These companies may even offer the opportunity to try out different positions in the organization. Joining a culture where the business is committed to growing its team from within can be a great way to build a career.

Develop career-building habits and skills. Many of the things you’d do to build a career right out of college apply to those building a career right out of high school, too. Learn how to network effectively. Leverage your school’s counseling office and teachers in areas where you have interest. Many high schools have alumni programs where you could connect and learn about career paths. Figure out how to develop and highlight skills you pick up from every position you have.

Look at an alternative route to college. Just because you aren’t going to college right after high school doesn’t mean you have to forego a four-year degree altogether. You may want to pursue a degree later in your career once you zero in on your interests, have the time or money, or work for a company that helps with tuition reimbursement.

A four-year degree is not the only path to success. Employers around the country need, and value, skills that those with high school degrees can offer. No matter what your choice is, it will pay to remain diligent and maintain your focus on building a career you love.


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