One of the most important decisions we ever make is what we are going to grow up to be. Astronaut or the Lone Ranger score high when we are in kindergarten, but by high school, many of us are completely clueless as to what we want to do for the rest of our lives. In the 1990s, the problem was so acute that 1/3 of Hispanics were dropping out of high school. Fortunately, the high school dropout rate is trending lower today, at just 7.4 percent in 2010 (15.1 percent for Hispanics). This is great news because, as you can see from the chart below, high school dropouts earn less than 1/3 of someone with a professional degree, and are five times more likely to be unemployed.
The bankruptcy of Detroit is a sad, sober reminder that the jobs of tomorrow are quite different from the jobs of yesterday. Computers and machines have changed the production process forever. They have also changed the workplace environment. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, factories and office/administrative support positions are the two industries that will see the slowest job growth over the next decade, at 4 percent and 10 percent, respectively. On the other hand, if you go into health care and social assistance (33 percent job growth) or computer systems (47 percent job growth), you're almost guaranteed a job.
That is why every politician has STEM on the tip of their tongue. Science, technology, engineering and math are the educational springboard to the jobs of tomorrow. However, so are the Arts. Harvey White, the co-founder of Qualcomm and Leap Wireless International Inc. has argued that students need to focus on STEAM -- adding arts to the core curriculum because, according to White, "We simply cannot compete in the new economy unless we do something now about creativity and innovation."
Creating the jobs of tomorrow begins with creating the products of tomorrow. The U.S. leads the world in innovation, and that is a big piece of how and why we remain the economic leader. Think of Henry Ford, Steve Jobs, Bill Gates, Larry Page, Sergey Brin (a Russian immigrant), Kay Koplovitz and Elon Musk (a South African immigrant). These are visionary entrepreneurs who have driven our world and our economy forward, dreaming up the products and services that we discover we can't live without.
Don't think that innovation is just the playground of the very lucky and the elite -- something that doesn't apply to the average person. Creative thinking can fuel your rise up any career ladder. Kay Koplovitz wanted to be a network CEO at a time when women simply weren't offered that job. So, she launched her own network, and the cable television industry in the process. At the time, everyone was happy with three free channels broadcast by antennas. Kay harnessed the power of satellites to broadcast live sporting events from around the world. One of her first paid TV events was the Thrilla in Manilla, a boxing event that sports enthusiasts were happy to pay to see. She saw the potential eight years before she was allowed to use satellites to broadcast television.
Steve Jobs knew there would come a day when everyone would own a personal computer. Elon Musk is driving the shift to electric vehicles. Bianca discovered that her degree in computer graphics was a creative edge in heading up the social networking division of a major magazine.
Yes, critical thinking skills can be exercised with Sudoku and logic games -- more paper, but this does not get the creative juices flowing. Dancing, drawing, writing poetry, playing instruments and singing exercise the right side of your brain -- the side that understands space and freedom, that breaks the binds of logic and linear learning. This is where dreams, inventions and outside of the box thinking are born. And this is an area that the wild and free Americans excel in.
As a young songwriter, who was diligent about sitting for long intervals and forcing myself to write, I found myself hitting creative walls or simply rewriting the same song. A famous nonfiction author gave me the best advice. "Take a pen and paper with you, and go out and live. That is where stories come from, not at your desk."
Yes, there are all kinds of reports showing that the rest of the world is kicking our ass in core curriculum achievement -- but not in innovation. So, as we prepare our teens for the future, with a focus on STEM and the grades necessary to get into a good university, let's not forget to add the most important A -- the Arts. Particularly this summer, and every summer, take time off (as in vacation and away from the book learning) with your teen to experience the world from the right side of your brain -- the side that is free to dance and play. It's not frivolous at all. In fact, it could be the missing link -- the most important A your teen can achieve.
One more tip: if your teen is not making the grade, don't underestimate the power of a good junior college. Some junior colleges have the same professors that are teaching at the local university, with more personal contact due to the typically smaller class size -- at a fraction of the cost. If your teen does well at the local college, it could be far easier to transfer in as a junior, into her first choice university, than trying to compete as a freshman entry. That means that your teen's degree could cost half as much, for the same university degree -- which is an effective strategy for reducing the debt load she will carry into the workplace.
Full STEAM ahead!