Saturday, March 15, 2008

Retail Guidance For Two Young People

I had an interesting engagement today with two young people attempting to find their way in life. I went to the "XL Big And Tall" store near a local mall to pick up some new recreational clothing for my exercise routine. When I walked into the store there were no other customers at the time - just one Black female associate that was talking on the cellphone and another young Black male who was schooling her how to fold the clothing for the display.

I browsed the clothing section of the store as I listened in on their interesting conversation. I couldn't help but to notice a bit of the inappropriateness of some of what they were doing. On the one hand she was on the cellphone and then had her shoes off, with bare feet. As they continued to talk about her career options they used curse words that should never have been said in the presence of a customer under any circumstances. I casually continued my browsing as I listened in.

Though the male was but a few years older than her - he served as the career councilor regarding what she should do as her next step regarding an area of study in school. Initially she talked about becoming a computer programmer but admitted that she was not good at typing. Her "career mentor" fired back that indeed she needed to be able to type in order to become a computer programmer. Besides that, he said, these people are 'really really talented' so you would have to be sharp in order to get a job in the field of computer programming. That answer didn't sit well with me but I said nothing, continuing to listen in. I had planned to interject my views but only at the right time.

Next the female said that she is very creative so possibly a fashion designer is an option. They talked back and forth about how difficult it might be to have a career in that field. The 'who you know' factor is strong. They mentioned that Kimora Lee would not be who she with her clothing label without the people that she knows, particularly Russell Simmons. They talked about cosmetology school as an option. At this point I was frustrated in that so many of the options that they focused upon were run of the mill, low value career options. Cosmetology? Fashion Design? How many thousands of young people in a 3 mile radius of her have the very same ideas in their head. This clearly was not the pathway toward a promising career for her.

Just as I plotted out what I was going to say to them - 3 customers came in and broke up the conversation. I proceeded to get the socks, pants and shirts that I wanted and tried to pace myself to go to the register and talk to the female to give her my views. By that time, however they both were at the register together and the male waited on me while the customer that the female was helping was finished and she left.

Before I could get my words out to give my two cents - the male said to me "You overheard what we were saying back there - what is your view on what she should do as far as a career?" I told him that I didn't agree with his views on computer programming. I heard her say that she was creative and computer literate. While it is important that she practice how to type there is a lot of opportunity out there for graphic artists to express their talents on web pages, electronic media and other venues that are blowing up as we speak. I them both that while it is true that there are hard core programmers that develop Microsoft Windows or Excel itself - there are far more people that develop programs that use these developed programs in the context of business applications. This is what she should focus on. I told her that the best way to go is to think as the person who is already in the business that she is in - read all of the magazines that they read so that she can be knowledgeable about all of the trends in the industry.

A career is not a job - it is a way of thinking. It becomes your life. (Well at least in my case that is). I told her that the notion of the "9 to 5" has fundamentally changed. I work on a project basis. I have a main job and a consulting job on the side. When I am looking for talent I work with people who I have never met and that I will never get to see on a site called "Elance". The people have skills that they are seeking to sell and I have projects that I am attempting to get completed. We each benefit from the exchange.

I suggested to her that she go and research a new development platform called "Microsoft Silverlight". It is a competitor to Adobe Flash and is getting some traction around the industry. If she were to download this - which is free - and master it she could use this as a vehicle for employing her skills.

As I was leaving I told her to change her thinking "Instead of looking for a JOB she should be looking to DEVELOP SPECIFIC SKILLS. At some point people will be PURCHASING YOUR SKILLS where as a with a job you will always be seeking".

I believe that I did my part. The middle aged Black male customer who was listening in on it all might have been moved into changing his thoughts as well. :-)

Clearly our young people need more career guidance so that everyone is not stacked up in the personal services field. For me as an independent consultant and individual contributor - if I had a steady pool of polished talent to tap into who were also dependable and could do 'at will' work - I could transition much of my hands on IT work that I do to them while I focus on developing more opportunity and my business. The challenge is that my customers are not going to want to have their systems as a testing ground for a novice apprentice. This is my current frustration in my work on the side. There needs to be more computing centers for young people where they can develop a culture of technical skills which can be honed and then turned into productive ends.

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