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Emerging Adults – Issues and Challenges

Last week, Sarah came to consult with me. She had graduated from college a year before and had gotten a fabulous teaching job in a new school in Denver. She had been teaching for one year. Everything had fallen into place, except one thing she didn’t like–teaching.

David started his freshman year at an excellent Eastern school majoring in business. Somehow, his classes didn’t make sense. He became quickly bored and was thinking of dropping out of school.

Why are there so many young adults with degrees who can’t find a good match between training and career? Why are so many emerging adults having such a hard time?

As a career consultant, I get many referrals from young people confused as to what to study in college and many recent graduates who are not sure what kind of jobs or careers they want. I also get many calls from parents to discuss their struggling children.

Lately, I have seen an increase of young adults between 22 and 28 who are unhappy with their jobs and are now thinking of going back to school for another degree. Presently, less than 50% of college students graduate in four years. Here are some present statistics from When Your Grown

Children Disappoint You by Jane Adams (Free Press, 2003):

Antidepressant use is highest among 21-32 year olds.

Forty percent of young adults 18-35 are excessively dependent on their parents for financial emotional and physical support

Fifty eight percent of 21-24 year olds live at home or have boomeranged back in the last two years; for 25-34 year olds, the figure is 34 percent.

Research has shown that personal vision is more predictive of success than intelligence, education, or socio-economic background. Students often struggle in college because they see no connection between what they are doing and life after college; according to the Noel Study, they don’t have a clear vision.

Many college students feel that when they leave college and enter into adult life, they have to give up being who they are and what they really enjoy. However, the more students know themselves, the more they will choose majors or training that have good fits with their futures. Peter Drucker, the late, very famous management consultant stated: “Success in the Knowledge Economy comes to those who do two things: identify and articulate their talents, and place themselves in positions to use them.”

Here are some suggestions for working with emerging adults in career transition:

• The vision wheel can be a great tool to utilize. Use as many career assessments as a client will take. I find that using the Strong Interest Inventory and the Myers Briggs can add very valuable information to HAB. Looking at all 3 assessments can confirm a certain career or open up new possibilities. The young adults I have worked with are very open to new things.

• Offer career coaching in addition to the assessments. I find also that doing some coaching in terms of skills (stories that tell about accomplishments) can be very helpful. I have found that many young adults from 23-29 are in a lot of pain and conflict because they have not found their “life path” and think that “something must be wrong with me”. Many have not had any previous career coaching, and this may be the first time they have started to do some soul-searching.

• It’s important to recognize and evaluate any depression. Working with many young adults, I find that some start to have feelings of low self-worth and depression, because this is often the first time in their lives they are on their own and do not have a structured plan with which to go forward.

• It is difficult to go forward in today’s economy without further education. However, it doesn’t have to be in a higher academic career (e.g., MBA, PhD, Law). Many people are satisfied to get a certificate from an art or technical school, or a bachelors’ degree in a new subject.. Some popular certificate programs are: X-Ray or ultra-sound technology, nursing, paralegal, graphic design..

• It’s better to continue working than to go back to school, unless you’re committed and certain as to what you want to study.

• Encourage volunteer work, internships and informational interviews. Even though a lot of info is online, I encourage

Informational interviews to look at different work place settings and meet new people. I also try to have clients meet people who have Completed school programs or made career changes.

Some great books to recommend:

Draut, Tamara. Strapped. Why American’s 20 and 30 Somethings Can’t Get Ahead. Random House. 2005.

Levine, Mel. Ready or Not, Here Life Comes. Simon and Schuster, 2004.

McDonald and Hutcheson. Don’t Waste Your Talent. (The Highlands Company, 2005)

Pollack, Getting from College to Career : 90 Things to Do before You Join the Real World. Collins, 2007.

Robbins, Alexandra and Abby Wilner. QuarterLife Crisis. 2002.

The years following college are Years of Opportunity, Change, Challenge, and Hope.


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