A Perfect Storm Awaits Unprepared Graduates

By Phil Jarvis

Four labor force megatrends are converging to create a “perfect storm” in the labor markets in which students must establish their careers. Almost 50 percent of youth are now victims of the perfect storm, exiting education into unemployment or under-employment, often mired in debt, unclear about their employment and career prospects. They begin their careers in minimum wage jobs unrelated to their studies, with little prospect of paying off student loans soon, let alone buying a car and home and beginning a satisfying, fulfilling adult life.


School counselors need to be aware of the perfect storm and provide leadership in their schools to ensure students receive the career development they need to transition from school to success, despite the perfect storm.


The Four Megatrends Causing the Perfect Storm


1. The Great Recession - The global economy and communities across the country are weathering the worst economic downturn since the Great Depression. All levels of government are in record debt, endeavoring to balance program and service cuts with economic stimulus. Recovery is slow and faltering, and companies are reluctant to invest in new people.


2. Shifting Demographics - The oldest baby boomer turned 65 in 2012. Many have retired and an annual tsunami of boomers will retire over the next 20 years. This mass exodus from the work world of the most knowledgeable and experienced employees will create new challenges for employers seeking to fill talent voids.


3. Upskilling of Jobs - New technology has rendered many jobs obsolete, enabled robots to replace humans in other jobs, and raised skill requirements in all sectors, while producing new jobs every month. More education and skills are now demanded of workers in all jobs, especially in new and emerging sectors requiring science, technology, engineering or mathematics (STEM) skills. Despite high unemployment and underemployment, employers in most sectors report challenges finding the talent they need to fill “mission-critical” positions.


The economic consequences of unemployment and underemployment are staggering. Lost productivity and reduced competitiveness cost employers dearly. Lost tax revenues, social assistance, corrections, stress-induced health costs alone run into billions of dollars annually. The human consequences are higher. The most effective way for governments to reduce deficits and debt, and for companies to increase productivity and grow, is to get the right people in the right jobs, fully engaged in creating economic prosperity for their companies, communities, and families. Students must be prepared to exit school into appropriate employment.


4. Unprepared Graduates - Today’s students need higher skill levels than any cohort before them. Yet, key 21st century skills employers now insist upon are not in the curriculum in most secondary and post-secondary programs. All job sectors experiencing growth require at least some level of post-secondary certification, yet of 100 students in the 9th grade today, fewer than 25 will graduate on schedule with a post-secondary degree, diploma or certificate.


The portends are clear. Many students risk becoming casualties of the perfect storm. Skilled counselors and exemplary career development programs and services are needed to support students in all grades. Available resources tend to be underutilized because career development is not a priority.


Foundation Resources


Five “foundation resources” are essential to prepare students to prosper despite the perfect storm. The use of these resources should be overseen by a qualified school counselor.


  1. Experiential career learning programs and activities in kindergarten, primary, middle, secondary, and post-secondary classrooms;

  2. Comprehensive online career exploration and planning systems with comprehensive and locally relevant career, learning, and labor market information;

  3. Compulsory Individual Personal Planning (IPP or ePortfolio) systems with completion standards for all grades set by schools, school districts, and/or departments of education;

  4. Online course planning systems that link students’ IPP to the school’s student information system (SIS) so students, with support from their teachers and parents, can select high school courses and post-secondary programs aligned with well-researched career goals; and

  5. Online systems that connect students, through their IPP, to employers seeking future talent and willing to help prepare students for success in the working world. These connections can result in immediate hires, or work-based learning opportunities including mentoring, coaching, work experience, job shadowing, co-op placements, volunteering, community service, part-time or summer jobs.


In honor of NCDA’s 100th anniversary, Career Cruising sponsored an idea generation process among NCDA leaders. The process culminated in an invitation-only meeting at NCDA’s 2013 Boston conference with NCDA President (then) Rich Feller, President-Elect (then) Lisa Severy, Harvard University’s Pathways to Prosperity Project Leader Bill Symonds, and 30 NCDA leaders from across the U.S. Among over 250 suggestions to help create pathways to prosperity for all students despite the perfect storm the following were rated highest:


  1. We must bring education and business together to create work-based learning opportunities for all students while they are still in school.

  2. We must put career exploration, planning and preparation at the heart of education for all students at all levels.

  3. We must engage all educators, parents, and community partners in a harmonized effort to prepare students to transition from school to success. 


Here’s a link to the complete results of the NCDA Thoughtstream process.


Role of the Counselor and Community

The role of school counselors is pivotal. No one recognizes and appreciates the importance of career development more. Counselors need to step out of their comfort zones and provide leadership in mobilizing buy-in and engagement from administrators, teachers, students, parents, employers, and community partners. Without “whole-community” buy-in, use of even the best resources is fragmented and their benefits are less than optimal. Indeed, only a whole-community approach to career development, with the best available resources and lead by career development professionals, will assure a smooth transition for students from school to success, despite the perfect storm.


Phil JarvisPhil Jarvis is Director of Global Partnerships at Career Cruising where he supports communities, states and countries implementing “whole-community” career and workforce development solutions. Career Cruising licenses its ccEngage suite of career exploration and planning resources to over 20,000 secondary and post-secondary schools, libraries and employment support centers. As the author of CHOICES, Phil was an early pioneer of computer-based career exploration and planning. He also co-authored the Blueprint for Life/Work Designs, co-created The Real Game Series, and has trained thousands of educators and workforce development personnel. Programs he authored or co-authored have helped millions of students in 15 countries transition from school to success. Mr. Jarvis can be reached at 800 965-8541 Ext. 117 or philj@careercruising.com.

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Jane Kipke   on Wednesday 09/04/2013 at 09:23 PM

Teaching career development, opening a student's awareness to their own talents and exploring interests is so rewarding! However, school counselors today are mired down with character and personal/social issues to a greater extent, according to ASCA's blog. I hope more school counselors will become more knowledgeable of career theory and its steps, and the process of guiding students realize how their interests and abilities will lead them to a successful and rewarding career that benefits their world. Do you think there would be more motivated students and less social problems?

Jane Kipke   on Wednesday 09/04/2013 at 10:00 PM

Might I add an additional comment? The article and your website clearly identify the forces leading to the "perfect storm," which has been predicted for many years, but not heeded. What colleges/universities offer (majors) do not translate to an occupation title, and we have known that most jobs will not require a bachelor's degree or above. Along with understanding the process of career development, embracing its value for students and community, it is critical to understand world labor trends - what an interesting and challenging field! By the way, maybe we shouldn't be too excited about Boomer's retiring, therefore more opportunity - most of their jobs will probably be obsolete!

Phil Jarvis   on Thursday 09/05/2013 at 08:04 AM

There is a sea of evidence that any help students receive, from counselors, teachers or parents, in imagining the future they want to create and learning about potentially rewarding learning and career pathways results in increased student engagement in school, higher achievement, reduced behavioral issues and more successful transitions from one level of school to another, and from school to career and life. Here's a very comprehensive recent international compilation of the compelling evidence. Despite their constant pleas for evidence, administrators and policy-makers don't seem to be heeding the evidence. Thus, counselors don't have the time, teachers don't think it's their job, and parents don't know how to help.

"Fostering career and college readiness: How career development activities in schools impact on graduation rates and students' life success" (Hooley, Marriott, Sampson)


Please share this link widely.

Lydia Joiner   on Sunday 09/15/2013 at 10:11 AM

This is a great article that all school counselors should read as it provides a rationale for including career development opinion your campus' guidance plan.

But, it is increasingly difficult to provide these services as a school counselor. I currently serve a school with over 3,000 students. Our counselors must manage student schedules, transcripts, do lunch duty and hall duty, manage at risk coding, manage CTE coding, monitor grades and attendance, process state assessment, manage 504 cases, and then we can talk with kids about their four year plans. We have access to wonderful programs that can do all the things this article suggests, but it is difficult to meet with your entire caseload (@370) while doing all the activities above.

Also, teachers are reluctant to give us access to the students because they are trying to teach their own curriculum. We do some of these activities using group guidance, but the students really need individual assistance.

Many of the activities that prevent school counselors from seeing individual students could easily be done by a well trained secretary, but administrators are scared to dole out those tasks to others since they tie directly to the school's accountability.

Jeff Weber   on Thursday 09/19/2013 at 03:36 PM

Great post Phil. You echo the problem we set out to solve too. Graduates are unprepared, but so are many of today's career centers. The job search process is missing from training and guidance. That needs to be improved.

Disclaimer: The opinions expressed in the comments shown above are those of the individual comment authors and do not reflect the views or opinions of this organization.