Some Community Options

By Stuart Hoffman

In “Where Have All the Parents Gone?” (5TJT, May 2), I wrote that it is the role and responsibility of parents to address their older children’s future parnassah-career issues. As a follow-up, I would like to provide the community and our families with some strategies for restoring some balance between our families and our mosdos haTorah on this issue. I am not advocating removing the yeshiva/seminary leadership from having a point of view, but a voice should not be a veto.

Here is my quick list of 10 suggestions for our community to consider:

1. We need to stop living in the past and realize that what worked for your father’s time will no longer work today. It is never too late to start. We need to begin by doing an honest self-assessment of where we are today, develop a plan of where we want to be in three to five years, and act upon that plan.

2. Our yeshivas and Bais Yaakovs need to devote some time, probably in the senior year of high school for the girls and in the first few years of beis midrash for the boys, to the practical economics of living in today’s frum society. Both yeshiva boys and post-seminary girls need a realistic view the day-to-day economic costs of our lifestyle today.

3. Parents, together with their children, need to examine with a careful and critical eye the career options presented to the yeshiva boys and post-seminary girls. In order to allow our young people to compete with their peers in the current very limited job market, professional career planning must include real credentials from real colleges and universities. We need to stop the nonsense of thinking that an online degree from some unknown “college” will suffice. It may be “accredited,” but can you compete in today’s job market with that degree? Probably not!

4. We must avoid the “quick fix” academic credit processing programs that cloak themselves as a “college” but lack real acceptance among hiring officials and most graduate programs. These for-profit programs may claim to grant credits and even degrees, but corporate and government recruiters, headhunters, and other gatekeepers know the difference. The fact that some past students of the institution found positions in a career field does not mean that the same opportunities will be available to current students. In addition, note that an “accredited” degree does not automatically mean recognition by a given industry, graduate school, government agency, or career path.

While some good online programs exist as part of a legitimate university, many worthless products are also available. It is definitely a “buyer beware” situation.

5. Our high-tech economy increasingly requires skills in STEM (science, technology, engineering, and mathematics). The bulk of future jobs will be found in these areas. A degree in humanities or general studies is of questionable value today. Obtaining any degree by accumulating huge student-loan debt is also of questionable value. I advise young people who contact me to pursue what they like and do best, with as little debt as possible. For example, I recommend that they consider the use of local community colleges for general courses rather than expensive high-end universities.

6. Young people need to try to obtain some internships or summer work experiences, even if there is no salary attached to them. It is estimated that 40—50% of all new hires come as a direct result of an internship or similar work experience. According to a recent survey conducted by the National Association of Colleges and Employers, 42% of new hires came through internship programs. Are we missing out on these opportunities?

7. Parents and their older children need to do their own independent “due diligence” about the current job market and the specific position requirements needed to compete and be considered for vacancies in various career fields. They need to survey the job postings on corporate and government websites and read the specific requirements for the jobs posted there. This will provide a realistic view of job requirements that can be the basis for career planning. Note that job postings are quite literal and requirements are based on objective criteria rather than “potential” or presumed intelligence. Today’s job market is tight and competitive. There are many young people out there, American and foreign-born, who have not only already accrued skills and experience but whose intelligence matches or exceeds those in our community.

8. We need to find credible and accurate career advisors that are knowledgeable about our community and the overall job market. We need to stop following the “herd mentality” of doing whatever others are doing. We need to really do our homework regarding some of these new fields like graphic design, life coaching, general studies, etc. Are these really viable fields with abundant job openings? Or are they the result of a for-profit business operation seeking to cash in on our own lack of understanding of the job market? Do your due diligence! Carefully check out these so-called career options before investing your time and money.

9. We need to reintroduce emes into our post-high-school-age young people’s career options. That is the joint responsibility of our institutions, our yeshiva and post-high-school leadership, and parents. The misinformation, both inaccurate and out of date, is astounding! Some of this misinformation borders on geneivas da’as. We need to obtain current, accurate, and realistic job and career information.

10. Most important, we need to pray for siyatta d’Shmaya to ensure that the actions we take will enrich our families, our communities, and all of Klal Yisrael. v

Stuart Hoffman is a senior human-resources specialist for the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. He is a graduate of the Ner Israel Rabbinical College of Baltimore and holds undergraduate and graduate degrees from the Johns Hopkins University. Mr. Hoffman is a founding member of the Agudath Israel Congregation of Baltimore and serves as a board member of JobLink of Maryland, a nonprofit organization that helps job seekers locate and prepare for employment.

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