News & Features
Back to School
Adult Learners - Multiple Professions
By: Carla Patton - Ladue News
April 28, 2006
When did 'What do you want to be when you grow up?' become a multiple-choice question? And when did the answer become 'all of the above'?
Pre-boomer generations had pretty much one career in mind once they reached maturity: engineer, doctor, lawyer, architect, teacher, nurse, etc. Some even made plans to pursue that career at a specific company or institution. No more. "Now we know that adults will experience five to 10 career changes per lifetime and have 15 to 25 jobs," says Carol Dillon, a career and personal counselor who also teaches an introductory course in personal and professional development for adults at Fontbonne University. She herself was a former human resources director who returned to school, first for an undergraduate degree and then to study for a master's degree in counseling.
Fontbonne's Gateway Curriculum, Dillon explains, is designed for adult learners who are at least 23 years old, have graduated from high school and have two to three years of work experience. In her introductory course, a primary focus is academic readiness: English grammar, punctuation and writing skills ("e-mail hasn't helped," she laments), study and note-taking skills, and time-management skills.
"Students learn to recognize their learning style and how to use it to their advantage," Dillon says. "I also give a Myers-Briggs personality test to enable students to identify their personality type and increase their understanding of self and others. And I use team-building exercises to teach them how to work in productive teams."
Learning effective time-management is essential for adult learners, she says, because "they are adding yet another commitment-school-to their existing obligations. They need to have a system to manage goal achievement, a method for examining their progress that's in congruence with their values and environment.
Adults return to higher education from various professions and for a variety of reasons, Dillon says, but all have a long-range goal. "Some work as support staff, or are just starting out in their careers and want to move up. But I always have managers and directors in class," she continues. "Many come from the computer industry and want the educational background for their technical expertise."
Dillon also speculates that boomers on the brink of retirement are planning for a post-retirement career. "It's an opportunity for them to do what they're really passionate about." A job lay-off is often another catalyst for a self-assessment that leads to change, she says. "Many weren't happy with what they were doing and want to pursue a special interest." Nursing and pharmaceuticals are good fields to get into, she notes, "and any business field is still a hot career area."
Dr. Benjamin Akande, dean of the School of Business and Technology at Webster University, observes that many nontraditional students hold lower to mid-level positions in an organization and are "looking to upgrade their skills, to go from managing to leading." In today's work environment, "an undergraduate degree is insufficient for higher level positions," he adds. Companies are looking beyond resource management toward individuals who can also motivate and manage the people they lead. As a result, interest in obtaining an MBA or Master of Arts degree is on the rise, he says. The field of information technology presents an area of opportunity for adult learners due to the need for both technical proficiency and great leaders, Akande says. "A junior CIO combines the technical aspects of IT plus management skills." In cases where adults are changing careers, Akande believes workers age 23 to 29 currently engage in a ‘trial-and-error' process. "They are trying to find a field that suits them, where they will have a competitive advantage," he says. "It's very healthy-and good in the long run-for the mind and psyche. Until you find what you like to do and are best at, you need to keep looking."
He recommends performing a personal SWOT analysis to assess strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats when it comes to choosing a career. "If you go into a very specialized area, you can be trapped," Akande notes. Graduate degree programs with broad application (for example, Webster's new dual-degree MBA/masters in health administration program) offer "more flexibility, and you can move into tangential areas like insurance or the service industry," he says. "Don't put all your eggs in one basket. The advice used to be 'specialize.' To be marketable in the new reality of the 21st century, it's ‘specialize in many different areas.'"
The entire educational program at the University of Phoenix is designed for nontraditional learners, according to Stephen Zemble, associate campus director for the three St. Louis locations. "Most students work full time, and many are in school for job promotion or a career change," he says.
Many seek future employment at a nonprofit organization, or in education or health care, Zemble adds. "(Adult students) want a more fulfilling opportunity. Education and health care are continuously in need of professionals." With aging baby boomers, the nursing demand will be great, he points out, and "one of the largest retiring group of teachers for grades K through 12 has occurred within the last few years." Zemble indicates the demand for math, science and special education teachers is especially high.
The University of Phoenix offers the following tips for adults who are ‘re-careering':
- Consider volunteering or taking temp work in the industry you are interested in before quitting your current job.
- Join appropriate associations for networking opportunities in the field in which you wish to work.
- Contact professionals in the desired industry for informational interviews, and ask for tips of the trade. Be persistent; most are willing to share their knowledge.
- Fear of unknown is normal. Don't let it prevent you from growing personally and professionally.
with permission: copyrighted 2006 Ladue News