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More About "The Plan"
by Rabbi Yakov Horowitz

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4/12/11

More About “The Plan”

In his “Do You Have a Plan?” article (Where, What, When:May, 2010), Mr. Stuart Hoffman makes several important points. I would like to add several of my own based on my ongoing experience with employers, recruiters, and job seekers.

It goes without saying that parents need to play a more active role in The Plan, interfacing with the undergraduate and graduate programs directly and being an informed consumer prior to their investment on behalf of their sons or daughters. Questions might include, what is the track record for the graduates of a given program? Have graduates been able to find a broad range of viable jobs in the corporate world, or are one’s prospects limited to the Orthodox community, in which quality jobs might be scarce?

The time for parents to start thinking about The Plan is probably 10th or 11th Grade, as decisions or non-decisions made in 12th Grade will have important ramifications for the future. Parents should maintain an ongoing dialogue with their children about The Plan, and take practical steps towards it over the next several years. Deferring these conversations and steps to “the future” will likely have significant consequences down-the-road. Obviously, some variables will change, but many are very predictable. I have met with many people who, in retrospect, never had a realistic plan, yet now wish that they had. Many of them have not been able to break into or gain traction within the job market. While this has certainly been exacerbated in the current economy, it is not a recent phenomenon.

When seeking out a career path or plan, it is best not to anticipate being the exception to the rule. While some people have landed in a particular successful employment situation after an untraditional path, that approach is by definition rarely effective. Consulting with people who have “been there, done that” is worthwhile. The concept of an “informational interview” is salient here. An informational interview is a meeting with a key (potential) mentor at his or her place of employment to learn about the field, the organization, and the workplace. Such an interview will hopefully serve as a realistic preview of both the positives and the challenges of that field. The timing of such a meeting should be early enough in one’s life to allow The Plan to crystallize.

Many individuals in our community are interested in financial services or federal government employment. People should realize that within the federal and even the private sector, employers will often conduct credit or other background checks (beyond a perfunctory “reference check”) prior to employment. Your credit score, which is an index of your financial stability, might also be researched. It is within their right to do so, if protocols are followed as per the Fair Credit Reporting Act. So, please be aware that a problematic financial history can have serious employment ramifications, not only for “security sensitive” positions but others as well. In addition, those with significant debt, including maintaining high credit card balances, might very well be disqualified for these jobs. Therefore, before you start applying for these employment opportunities, it is critical to make sure that your credit history does not contain errors or delinquencies; anything of this nature should be corrected or resolved. It goes without saying that one’s financial history cannot include anything illegal or unethical.

Even if a boy is cut-out for a full-day learning program and is successful in yeshiva, that might only be appropriate in the short term. For most people, there needs to be a cheshbon, or plan, towards an eventual “exit strategy.” This strategy should be considered early on. The objective should be to obtain credentials that will match not only one’s acumen and interests but will also be recognized by a broad range of employers in a competitive job market.

The following are some historical trends which I and others have observed:

1) For the most part, during the 20th century, white-collar jobs were relatively stable and predictable, especially in traditional fields like law, accounting, business/entrepreneurship, and medicine. Things were stable and did not change much; change if any, was slow.

2) At the end of the 20th century and the first decade of the 21st, advances in technology and science have drastically changed the landscape of the workplace. This has created new challenges of supply and demand within the labor market. Some jobs have been specialized. Some have become obsolete. Some have been outsourced overseas. Therefore, the number of available jobs, especially within a restricted geographic area, has shrunk. The common denominator is that things are constantly changing and people have to keep up.

3) From 2008 to 2010, an economic reality hit, creating additional changes in the labor market and where jobs can be found. For people to continue to hang on to the first point above, without a full appreciation of the second, is counterproductive and amounts to burying one’s head in the sand.

The take-away lesson here is that trends are pointing in different directions, certainly other than the professions mentioned in point number one. The reality is that there is now a glut of attorneys, accountants, and MBA’s who are seeking employment in fields with a limited number of openings. Those who are passionate and motivated in traditional occupations such as accounting, law, etc., may still want to consider those fields, as long as they take point number two into consideration and make conscious decisions accordingly. They should not rely on the job market of yesteryear or go into these fields because that is what everyone else is doing.

People should read publications such as the Wall Street Journal and local business journals to be conversant with market trends. Also, they should speak with people in the field, both Orthodox and not, those who are experienced as well as those who are early-career. The laws of labor supply-and-demand are in play today more than ever.

There is another significant issue, which relates to using the “streamlined” undergraduate degrees as a means of gaining admission to some sort of graduate program. In a traditional bachelor’s degree program, there is an opportunity for exploration and trial-and-error, allowing the student to make adjustments or switch tracks. That is not the case with streamlined programs, especially if the degree obtained is not accompanied by work experience. Therefore, one must be relatively certain about the track to be taken. It should be one in which he or she has the ability to do the coursework and complete the program, is passionate about the field with healthy ambition, and is capable of being successful in that discipline. Going down a vocational path simply because it is in vogue, or because it is perceived at being easy, might ultimately result in a bad fit.

I would like to clarify some points about transferring credits. Not all colleges will accept credits earned for college courses taken off campus during high school or beyond. This is an empirical question, which parents should find out ahead of time by consulting with the prospective college Admissions Office directly. In addition, there is a subtle difference between a college accepting a course as a prerequisite for other courses or merely counting those earned credits towards the grand total required.

The tone of this article is not to be critical of any local institution. However, there have been observable deficits recently within our community in terms of skills related to written English, math, and science. There is a tendency of parents to minimize the importance of these areas at the junior and high school levels, with the assumption that somehow, one’s son or daughter will eventually pick it up and do fine in post-high school classes and the workplace.

Well, that is not happening. We are seeing the ramifications of this trend in terms of many young people not being competitive in today’s job market. Make no mistake: This trend is independent of the current economy. Parents should come to expect an improvement in these areas from the schools. Otherwise, they will find themselves disappointed down the line when their children have challenges finding employment.

“Soft” skills critical to success in any field of endeavor include proper social and communication skills as well as professionalism. Simple things such as returning phone calls in a prompt fashion, being polite and not overbearing, having the appropriate balance of self-confidence and humility, and following up appropriately, are to some extent lacking. In our era of email technology, communicating properly and promptly through that channel is also part of this equation. In addition, offering oneself as a team player, both verbally and in action, is a sought-after quality in demonstrating work readiness; in a tight job market, it is a requirement. These are basic prerequisites, the importance of which should not be overlooked.

If a young man or woman is open to various fields, it should be noted that the growth fields today include engineering, technology, science, and biotech. Many available jobs today fall into the categories of Technology and Engineering. Yes, it is true that the schooling for these fields might take a bit longer. But, in the long run, the person will be better off by obtaining credentials in which there are a greater number of potential job opportunities. People should realize this and seek channels through which to obtain industry-recognized training and experience.

Within Information Technology (IT), the “hot commodities” we are seeing in the job market are Java, Sharepoint, C++, PHP, .Net, and programming for mobile devices (see below). These skills are very specific and may not even be taught through traditional training courses. They are often picked up on the job, which makes job experience particularly salient. For some, a bachelor’s degree in Computer Science or Information Systems is required or advantageous. However, industry-recognized certifications do not require a degree and can be administered through companies like Microsoft or Cisco. Degree and non-degree certification programs are offered at local commuter universities, community colleges, and private career institutes.

Project Management within these technical areas is another viable specialty. However, it requires existing experience and the industry-standard PMP (Project Management Professional) certification. Program and Project Managers with the PMP, ITIL (and other related) certifications are in demand. The PMP certification is frequently what raises a particular individual to the top of lists, and many firms are seeking those with PMP certification. Regardless of industry or client segment focus, recruiters look favorably at this credential.

One last point is worth emphasizing when it comes to working together with others who are not like us. The truth is that we are representatives of not only Jews but of Orthodox Jews as well. A relatively recent phenomenon includes employees requesting time off or scheduling adjustments for discretionary reasons, such as personal or family events that are not linked to an absolute religious necessity. I am also aware of situations in which frum employees have maintained excessive degrees of professional separation in the workplace, which may very well convey the perception of not wanting to be a team player.

When employment relationships don’t work out for these reasons, both non-Orthodox and Orthodox employers might be hesitant to consider or hire another (often easily identifiable) frum employee in the future. In addition, a current Orthodox employee might be reluctant to “go to bat” in referring a frum job seeker to his or her organization out of concerns of it reflecting poorly on him or herself. So, a chilul Hashem might also have negative practical consequences for our community. Conversely, working effectively with colleagues and working hard for an organization can facilitate a kiddush Hashem, not to mention create the perception that Orthodox Jews, while principled, are decent and productive people.

The significant message here is that parents should bring up and remain active in any discussion of The Plan starting from early ages. This combined with simple role modeling by parents who are engaged in employment while staying faithful to Torah lifestyle is critical to life success. The Gemara in Tamid (32a) tells us, “Eizehu Chacham? Haro’eh es hanolad”. Jewish history and recent trends in the workforce should teach us valuable lessons that are quite predictable, as we and our children navigate life.

Let me conclude with the following empirical information for review. While there are and will be jobs available in other fields of endeavor, this list shows the current trend towards the technical sector. (See sidebar for top-paying degrees.) Based on a recent informal survey which I sent to technical recruiters, the following are in-demand skills and credentials:

Specific Technologies, Environments, or Systems: Proficiency with Microsoft software (Office applications, the various Windows Operating Systems such as 7, XP, Server 2000); Sys Admin/Net Management tools (Microsoft, HP, Cisco); Sun/Solaris; UNIX/Linux; SQL Database development/other DB dev tools (such as Sybase and Oracle).

For accounting, Deltek, MAS90, other tools with Payroll and time tracking modules. The hottest accounting-related skill in this region right now is EVM (Earned Value Management).

Programming Languages or Software Programs: MS Visual Studio suite, other object oriented languages, such as C++, Java, .Net, J2EE, and Web development tools.

Training: College degrees, undergraduate or graduate, or other credential, such as an Associate’s degree or Bachelor of Science in Information Systems and Computer Science.

Industry Recognized Certifications A+ (CompTIA), PMP, ITIL, Cisco, MS Office, MSCE, MSP(s), MCSD, HDI/HMI (Help Desk Institute).

Authors Note: An earlier version of this article appeared in Baltimore’s Where What When magazine.

Related Articles:

The Job Search

Parnassa Issues: Do You Have a Plan?

Sidebar

Top-Paying Bachelor's Degrees

(Source: Winter 2010 Salary Survey, National Association of Colleges and Employers)

Major

Average Salary Offer*

Petroleum Engineering

$86,220

Chemical Engineering

$65,142

Mining & Mineral Engineering (incl. geological)

$64,552

Computer Science

$61,205

Computer Engineering

$60,879

Electrical/Electronics & Communications Engineering

$59,074

Mechanical Engineering

$58,392

Industrial/Manufacturing Engineering

$57,734

Aerospace/Aeronautical/Astronautical Engineering

$57,231

* Data represent offers to bachelor’s degree candidates where 10 or more offers were reported.



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