Choosing a Path

Students young and old can find assistance in choosing a career

Local students get a boost from technology in pinpointing the
perfect career field
The debate of “what do I want to be when I grow up?” isn’t restricted to 9-year-olds anymore. It’s a debate students engage in through high school, college and sometimes even after they’ve received an advanced degree. With some high-tech help, however, the difficult decision can be put to rest.

Students at San Benito High School in Hollister are encouraged to start thinking of their future careers early, said Tim Pipes, a counselor at the school, and a computer software program is helping them explore their options.

“We have five different counselors on staff, and part of our job is to help students explore different opportunities in terms of jobs and careers,” Pipes said. “We use a computer program to try and narrow down their interests, and we hope to find one that can be summed up in a major for college or trade school.”

Students access the computer program – commonly referred to by its trademarked names of Bridges or Choices – at the school’s career center on the school’s Web site, www.sbhsd.k12. The program is comprised of a series of quizzes and assessment tests to determine students’ interests and academic strengths. It links these results to various careers, such as recommending a being a pilot or automotive forensic investigator to someone who has a flare for math or an interest in machines.

The Bridges program also explains each profession, lists majors related to the career, lists what kind of degrees are required for the jobs, and provides projected salaries and opportunities for interviews with people in the field.

Schools must pay to use the Bridges software, however, which posed a problem for Live Oak High School in Morgan Hill. The school used the program at one time but has since stopped.

“There isn’t really much of a budget for this kind of thing right now,” said Jan Byrdcamp, a volunteer career counselor at Live Oak. “When the budget got so tight in these last few years, it got cut out.”

Gavilan College uses a program similar to Bridges called EUREKA. The school also houses an extensive library of career planning materials in the career and transfer center.

“Any member of the community can come in and use our facilities,” said Jan Stewart-Amstutz, Gavilan’s career and transfer research specialist in Gilroy. “Because we are a community college, we serve not just our students, but the community at large.”

Although Elliott Treves, a music major at Gavilan, likes music, he also enjoys helping people.

“I’m here because I don’t know what I want to do,” said Treves, 20, as he sat with Stewart-Amstutz discussing career options.

The two talked about Treves’ likes and dislikes, what school subjects he enjoys and other careers he’s already considered. Stewart-Amstutz then gave him an assessment, and the two will review his results to see if they can pinpoint a career that matches his interests.

Talking to a counselor, taking self-assessment tests and participating in career-development classes are important steps to take in choosing a job, Stewart-Amstutz said.

“You have to have a plan or you’ll end up majoring in something you don’t necessarily want to major in,” she said. “Then you’ve got this degree you can’t use, because it has nothing to do with what you’re really interested in doing.”

A technique Stewart-Amstutz calls “informational interviewing” is another tool people can use to find a solid career match. Informational interviewing is when a person contacts a professional in the field he or she is interested in pursuing, and asking to interview them about the job. The interview also can include shadowing the professional for a few hours.

“We’ve all heard someone say how much they hate getting up and having to go to their job,” Stewart-Amstutz said. “People shouldn’t have to feel that way. That’s why it’s so important to do your research and find jobs that you’ll be good at and will make you happy.”

The public can use Gavilan’s career center materials free of charge, and computer assessments are available for $5. All services are free for Gavilan students.

Shadow for a day

If you’re a student searching for the perfect career field, one helpful idea is to shadow someone who works in that field, said Jan Stewart-Amstutz, Gavilan’s career and transfer research specialist.

When shadowing, Stewart-Amstutz said, consider asking some of these questions:

• How did you get this job?

• On a typical day in this position, what do you do?

• If you could do things all over again, would you choose the same path for yourself?

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