Most Career Paths Stink Now. So How Do You Steer Your Kids?

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A parent’s heart has to be big and endure many things, but among the most painful is seeing your young adult child thrash about, unable to find a clear path to happiness.

Jobs aren’t everything, of course, but the 20s are all about finding satisfying work that pays the bills and maybe points toward a relatively comfortable future. Sadly, the obvious paths for those things are all but gone. Every mom (and dad) wants, above all, for their kids to be happy. But that’s a pretty tall order right now.

As the new year begins, and resolutions about making a better life are made, it’s worth some examination.

Lawyer. Doctor. Pilot. Professor. A generation ago, parents might dream that their kids would end up in a prestigious, glamorous and lucrative job like one of those. Today … not so much.

I was at a conference dinner last year, surrounded by very successful people. Most had kids between 5 and 15 years old. As we rounded out our discussion about the tough, recovering, restless economy, and the trouble of finding a good town with good schools, talk turned to what these parents hoped for their kids’ future. And everyone at the table drew a big, sad blank.

These weren’t parents looking for their kids to become a doctor in the way a 1950s family wanted their kids to become a doctor. These were parents who were swapping ideas on what direction to nudge their kids so they would be fairly assured of a decent life after college. All ideas that came up were quickly tossed aside.

For starters, most of them were well-paid computer security folks, and they brushed aside the prospect of having junior follow in their footsteps. Sure, there’s plenty of money to be made, but everyone I know who works in security is trying to get out of security and feels a bit like Bob Denver from “Gilligan’s Island.” (Wait, who? Exactly. Gilligan.)

When was the last time you saw a chief security officer become CEO? Security folks are the football offensive linemen of today’s world. They only make a name for themselves when something is wrong. So, from U.S. News & World Report’s top 100 jobs, we can knock off a quarter of the top 20 prospects.

These professions aren’t what they used to be

Back to the traditional ideas. Pilot? No way. Did you hear Sully Sullenberger’s tale of packing lunches for the cockpit because airlines overcharge pilots for meals? That’s what you get for saving 155 souls in a landing on the Hudson River.

Doctor? Well, specialist, maybe. But doctors spend more time filling out forms than examining patients nowadays. The doctor-patient relationship has been decimated by insurance (that is, many people hate doctors now). And my brother will tell you, thanks to the way Medicare and insurance payments often work, many doctors earn less every year, a phenomenon that grows worse as doctors become more experienced (and try to start their own families).

Lawyer? Enough said. We could close all the law schools today and still have a glut in the profession for the next 10 years.

Professor? You’re kidding, right? All the out-of-work lawyers are gunning for the occasional adjunct opening.

Yes, there are still jobs, and there are growing professions, such as dental hygienist and veterinarian. But it was alarming for me to look around the table and see such large question marks in the eyes of these parents. Which way do you nudge your kids to avoid the fate of so many millennials today: saddled with six-figure student loans, with no jobs or health insurance?

This spring, we will graduate another 1.5 million or so college kids, and the reality facing them is stark: A study released in 2013 showed that only 6 in 10 Americans under 30 were working, and half of them were working part time. Nearly 60 percent in that age group had attended college. Makes those college degrees, and those student loans, seem a little sketchy, no?

Where will you nudge your children in the hope that they have a decent chance at a decent life after college?

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