Why do kids all want to be baseball players and astronauts?

Kids have a limited view of the world of work.  I certainly was not dreaming about becoming a headhunter when I was 6 (I think I wanted to be a cowboy, more specifically the Lone Ranger) although I now love my job and cannot imagine doing anything else.  I doubt any kid at that early age has a clue about what their choices might be for a career.  

My son at age 4 came to me with this little titbit that should warm the hearts of all ambitious parents out there. "Daddy, when I grow up I want to be the guy who puts the cans in the vending machine, that looks like fun! Or maybe the guy who delivers packages because he can ride on the cart when it is empty!"  This article was born out of my desire to give my son a few more options to consider.

As you can see from the examples above, our kids are thinking about jobs in terms of what they know and see everyday (cowboys, spaceships, vending machines, etc.).  The scary thing though is that many of them will not have any better ideas when they are 18 than they do now at 8.  We can start helping them now to develop a broader knowledge of what jobs people do so that they struggle less at graduation from college and because they know what they want, present themselves with more confidence and enthusiasm in interviews.

The easiest thing to do is talk with your kids.  While watching the baseball game talk about the other jobs you see people doing on the screen (cameraman, umpire, guy selling peanuts...). For a more hands on approach, take the kids on field trips that give them a chance to see what people do.  While a trip to the zoo is still a great way to spend time with our kids, I think you will find that kids love spending time with us no matter where we go, at least when they are younger anyway.

Here are some suggestions for jobs that are likely to be available 10 to 20 years from now.  I have also included some suggestions on why they might be considered "fun" for an 8 years old.  Pick one that you think might suit your son's or daughter's temperament and interests and tell them about it.

  1. Nurses - Always needed and demand is growing all over the developed world due to aging populations. As a Nurse there are opportunities to work all over the world, you get to take care of people and help them to feel better.  You may even save someone's life!
  2. Accountants - As with Nurses, Accountants are always in demand.  If your child is interested in business and money then accounting is the cornerstone to a good career.  If they like numbers you can lay out coins and count up how much money.  Any business related interest can be swung back towards accounting.  I personally recommend this choice as a college major over almost any other business choice in college (economics, business administration).
  3. Elementary School Teachers - Teachers are overworked and the future will show an increase in the need for specialists as graduates are trending away from teaching in general.  Teachers focused on math, science or bilingual education will be good options.  This one is a little easier to explain to your kids since they already know what a teacher is and may very well even look up to their own 4th grade teacher!
  4. Computer Software Engineers - In demand now, tomorrow, forever?  This is also easy, just tell your kids that they can design video games!
  5. Carpenters - Difficult to outsource this one and predictions are that it will continue to be a stable job in the future.  Why would it be fun? You get to work outside and you get to hammer things!
  6. Logistics - The world is getting smaller and people in Sri Lanka want all the same things that people in Norway have.  Shipping all these things around the world is big business.  How to make it sound appealing to our kids? Big boats, trains, airplanes, trucks, spaceships(?)... that should do it.
  7. Mental Health Therapists - I had not expected to find this career in my research but as the world gets more crowded I guess we will all need some help getting along.  Similar to the Nurse role, this is a job that allows our kids to help people.  They can also work from home with their own practice.
  8. Physical Therapists - The growth area for this career is more towards the elderly but at age 8 I think it is OK to talk about the connections with professional sports.  Mentioning that the Therapists get to go to all the games for free and hang out in the locker room is a good approach.

Keep in mind that choosing any of the above careers does not place a limit on how high our kids can go.  Bill Gates would most likely be categorized as starting out as a Computer Software Engineer, Accountants can go on to become CFOs of major companies and Nurses can continue on with medical school to become Doctors later in life.

Feel free to get creative.  My son is nuts about soccer but I doubt that he will have enough practice time over the next several years to launch him into the professional leagues.  But, I can sit down with him now and talk about all the jobs that are related to soccer.  Besides all the usual functions that any big corporation will have (marketing, accounting, sales, legal) there are a variety of positions that are more uniquely connected to sports and teams like interpreter for that foreign player, physical therapist (as mentioned above), assistant coach, sports writer (blogger?!), sponsor management, etc.

What this means is that my son does not have to give up his soccer ambitions when he is 8 or 9.  There is plenty of time for the cold bucket of reality to get dumped on his head and when my son does realize that playing for Real Madrid may not be the most likely of futures he will have alternatives in mind to choose from.