Before you can reach students, you have to reach their parents.
If you’re trying to connect with young people on any level in the education and workforce development sectors, you may have experienced the challenge of gaining parental buy-in. Maybe it’s the value of career-focused education that they just don’t realize. Maybe you represent an industry of which they have little experience or knowledge. Whatever your context, you need them to see the significance of your offerings. You need to open their eyes.
Parents can be blinkered by the stigmas that have been floating around career-focused education for decades. You know the ones—like college is not an option if a student takes a career-focused program, that choosing such a pathway leads to low-paying work, that college is the only way to win, that the student’s future opportunities are limited by taking a career program, and more.
If we don’t reach parents, it will be infinitely harder to reach students. Technology has made it easier than ever for parents to remain connected as huge influencers in their children’s lives. The younger generations tend to be very connected with their parents and involve them in many life decisions, often into adulthood. While every family has a unique dynamic and parent-child relationships, we shouldn’t underestimate the influence of the parent.
So how do we open eyes to the value of career-focused education? As a keynote speaker, I often have the opportunity to address the parents of current and prospective students. Whenever I am speaking to such an audience, I always ask two questions:
- How many of you want your son/daughter to go to college?
- How many would like them to go there with a competitive advantage?
Due to the current dominant narrative in this country, almost everyone believes college is the best choice for their child. So I work with that view rather than against it to open people’s minds to the full range of options—of which college is certainly one.
We must communicate that college is absolutely an option for students who take career programs. Perhaps even more important, taking a career program in high school actually gives collegebound students a competitive advantage. There are many reasons for this:
- The student already knows whether he or she likes the field enough to pursue it as a viable career option, before spending money at college to learn if it is a good fit. Maybe the career program isn’t what the student wants to do the rest of his or her life—and that’s the beauty of it. Having discovered this, now the student can choose something else.
- The student already has the foundational, hands-on, real-world experience needed to become successful in his or her chosen field.
- The student (and parents) will save money by investing wisely in the next level of education—in the end, they will invest in purposeful education.
- The student may earn a national industry certification upon program completion and can earn a higher wage to work their way through higher education, developing the needed experience and income to lower the college debt burden and fund that advanced study.
- The student, by virtue of earning a certification and gaining the necessary on-the-job experience sooner (which of course comes with working in the field), can become a lead candidate for a specialized college course of study, paid internships, and other opportunities available to motivated and successful students.
You can probably add to this list. By taking a high school career program, these students, in essence, can become the right students, in the right college programs, for the right reasons. They will build a powerful competitive advantage to achieve more than those who simply start from square one at some point in the college experience.
We need to open parents’ eyes to the amazing opportunities that high school career and technical programs create for college, career, and beyond. Our message has to be a stigma and paradigm changer that gets parents to think in a way that creates many pathways to success. The competitive advantage of career-focused education truly has the power to open people’s eyes—so let’s help them take the blinkers off, see the big picture, and influence their children make the best decision for their education and life direction.