As we prepare to wrap up another graduation season, I took some time on a recent rainy evening, while enjoying a refreshing adult beverage, to ponder on what lies ahead for the current crop of graduates.
The end of high school can be a fascinating time of transition.
For most of us, much of what we do for the first 18 years or so of our lives is scripted, at least as far as the broad categories are concerned.
We start school at more-or-less the same age, and spend about the same number of years generally learning the same things (although recent reports suggest a lot of graduates aren’t learning what they should be).
After graduation, however, our lives take a much more independent course, and we have more control over the things we do.
Some will go to college or vocational school, some will choose military service, and others will jump directly into the workforce. Still others will wander around aimlessly for a few years trying to figure out who they are and what they are going to do with their lives.
Those of us who have been around awhile know that life is what happens while we are busy making other plans.
Some people know from a young age exactly what they want to do (or think they want to do) after they graduate.
Others haven’t the faintest idea, even when they cross that stage and clutch that precious diploma.
One thing seems likely.
Whether the graduates think they know what they are going to do, or whether they don’t, most will change directions along the way, and they will probably do so several times.
This is an exciting time in which to be graduating.
When I cast my mind back to the ancient times when I graduated, it occurs to me there are jobs and careers available to today’s graduates that didn’t exist back then.
There were no web designers, web content managers, or e-commerce specialists, because there was no Internet.
There were no cell phone sales consultants or app developers, because these things didn’t exist at least not in the way they do today.
Today’s graduates will have bountiful opportunities to work in the medical field.
As the population ages, and we try to keep people alive forever, all sorts of medical and support careers will continue to emerge and grow.
Advances in medical technology that make it possible to replace limbs and joints may result in careers for technicians to perform maintenance on people much the same way mechanics service vehicles today.
This is not a new phenomenon.
Ever since our distant ancestors began to specialize, and move from hunting and gathering to a system where people did different jobs, the nature of those jobs and careers has been changing.
For example, there was probably a graduating class at some point that realized the job market for people who were skilled at making broadswords and suits of armor was drying up.
At another point in history, a crop of graduates probably made the switch from building and repairing wagons and buggies to servicing trucks and automobiles.
Veterinarians who once specialized in equine work to care for all the horses used in agricultural production must at some point have made the then radical transition to taking care of household pets when tractors replaced horses in the fields.
Today’s graduates will face many of the same challenges graduates have faced since the first graduating class donned robes and silly hats and walked across a stage to collect a sheepskin.
One thing that has changed is the pace at which these transitions are taking place.
Significant vocational changes that once took place gradually over a period of decades may now happen in years or months.
Advances in communication and technology have allowed for rapid sharing of information, and made it possible for change to occur at an alarming pace.
As new technologies and jobs are developed, people will be needed to fill those jobs.
It seems likely the graduates who will be the most successful in this new environment will not be those who are experts in the old way of doing things.
The winners in this new world will be those who are nimble and able to quickly adapt to changing situations and apply what they have learned to an ever-evolving set of challenges.
Commencement ceremonies are steeped in tradition and reek of rigid ways of doing things, but once they cross that stage, graduates will need to be prepared to hit the ground running and be alert for new opportunities.
One would not wish to be a worker skilled only in the crafting of longbows in a world that is ready for laser-guided weapons and unmanned drones.
There will not be much call for typewriter repair technicians in a market dominated by digital tablets.
It is likely that winners in the job market of tomorrow will be the graduates who are both flexible and adaptable.