Help My Teen Son Find A Vocation/Trade/Profession
January 7, 2020 9:08 AM   Subscribe

My stepson (17 almost 18, slightly on the spectrum) pretty much wants to hide in this room and play video games and watch YouTube all day. I know this is standard teen operations, but my wife and I would like to help him discover a career, a trade, a profession that he could get excited about. Help us help him!

Our son is in the state virtual school system because middle and high school were just too much for him and he was on the verge of failing out.
He's just not built for classrooms when it's something he's not interested in.
If they had a class in WoW, Lord of the Rings and the history and lore of each, he'd be all over it.

We keep asking him what he's been thinking about doing when he graduates, but he comes up with nothing. We don't hold this against him, very few of us knew what we wanted at this age.

When I was growing up, I vaguely remember occupation tests or other tests you could take that would help point you in the right direction of possible jobs that you would be well suited for.
Do those still exist?
If no, what has taken their place?
If yes, have they improved?
What's good out there?

We're hoping for something that he could take that would encompass all of his strengths, weaknesses, preferences and abilities and then recommend some different paths he could consider, investigate and then move forward with.
We are cool with trade school, college, 2 year certificates, 4 year degrees, anything and everything.

We haven't approached any guidance counselors in the county school system, but assume they would also have assets and tests and such, but I wanted to get some input first and maybe ask for specific tests or questionnaires.

If we have to pay for it, fine.
We would prefer it if it were an online test, but again, willing to do it in person.

Assume that nothing is off the table; we just want to start a conversation with him and help him consider ALL the possibilities.

Thank you for your suggestions and kindness.
posted by anonymous to Education (24 answers total) 11 users marked this as a favorite
Has he worked much before? Is it possible to talk to him about getting a job, any job? If he doesn't know what he wants to do career-wise now, cool, he just has to find something that can contribute to the household expenses if he's not in school.

Thing is, there's so much I learned about myself just by working crappy jobs : I'm good with people, but bad at sales, I never could adapt to early morning starts so I'll never be a baker, I hate shift work but don't mind late hours if they're regular, I like doing things with my hands more than desk work.

This might not be for your kid, but I wish I'd had a lot more work experience in a variety of stuff before I tried to pick a direction.
posted by stillnocturnal at 9:23 AM on January 7, 2020 [34 favorites]

Came to recommend pretty much what stillnocturnal did. Get him an after school job or two. Let him know they're not his career path, just a way for him to get experience, make some spending money. Llet him buy games with it to encourage him while he's still schooling maybe and then he can pay board once he's out of school or whatever works for your family.

Once you are out working it is a lot easier to figure out what you do & don't like & to articulate it. I thought I wanted to work in childcare for years, then 2 years of part time jobs in various fields made me realized I actually hate child care & I am a born bookkeeper. With my terrible math skills no one would have thought that would be the job for me, but I love it and would never have found out without trying out entry level grunt work in various fields for a while until I found the one that clicked.
posted by wwax at 9:33 AM on January 7, 2020 [7 favorites]

Suggest he browse the Occupational Outlook Handbook. It's really useful for learning about jobs we may not be familiar with, and has information about what's likely to be required to get those jobs. It's a great resource, though I don't take the projections for growth rates in different sectors too seriously.

I don't think it's got any tests involved, but it's a good experience just to skim through the lists of options and see if anything sounds interesting.

And yes, it's definitely easier to figure out what your opinions are about different kinds of work once you've got some work experience. Absolutely anything short of seriously abusive jobs is worthwhile as a first job experience.
posted by asperity at 9:36 AM on January 7, 2020 [5 favorites]

Common and generally good answers for situations like this include apprenticeship/tradeschool/community college (often two of those are linked).

Trades that remain in high demand and generate fairly high pay for fairly low investment of training are HVAC and welding.

The BLS Occupational Outlook handbook is a great thing for you all to be skimming. Lots of people forget there are a zillion jobs out there that are not office work or sales and don't require a university degree.
(on preview: jinx)
posted by SaltySalticid at 9:38 AM on January 7, 2020 [4 favorites]

I found this to be useful, personally, and worth the purchase.
posted by WCityMike at 9:52 AM on January 7, 2020 [1 favorite]

I frankly dislike career assessments. When I took them way back, they said I’d be a great photog or baker, but those are things I have experience with and zero zero interest in as a career. The trouble is that such tests are idealistic and don’t take into account financial feasability or culture of the work itself. They are useless compared to the realizations you get from actually working.

I would strongly recommend making it difficult for him to escape down the internet/game rabbit hole. It’s addictive in nature for many and only gets moreso when the alternative is going out into a progressively more onerous and foreign real world.

That’s wonderful that you are open to any course or trade he chooses. Right now, his choice seems to be doesn’t know (and that’s ok). But the fact that you’re here taking the initiative (and he isn’t) says to me that perhaps he is also ok with not doing anything to find out about next steps (and that’s not ok).

I would make it an imperative that he do something out in the community—as it sounds like isolation is an issue.

I would also go easy on the idea of what does he want to be; that’s a very big and scary question for most people. The better question here is what does he want to DO next to work toward independence. It will likely include work or activities he won’t do forever.

And gaming/Youtube should be off the table unless it can help him pay his way.
posted by executive_dysfuncti0n at 9:59 AM on January 7, 2020 [12 favorites]

The ASVAB gave me some relevant data points when I took it in highschool even if I never enlisted: and you may be able to ask at area schools.

Second the BLS handbook.
posted by typecloud at 10:38 AM on January 7, 2020

Most kids aren't excited to get a full time job, much less a career. Most kids are excited to grow up because they anticipate having freedom and their own money and being able to direct their own time while also being free of the family obligations they had as a child (we are all suckered of course). It sounds like he kind of already is doing whatever he wants and while I do not fully understand the nature of being on the spectrum I would respectfully argue that your job as a parent is not to find a job for him, it's to prepare him to be ready and excited to take that step into adulthood and independence. Does he have chores? Contribute to the household? He's a kid so I assume you pay his bills but does he work at all? Who buys his video games and other non essentials? Does he have any peer interaction at all? Has he had the chance to interact with other adults outside the family setting?

Kids need a certain amount of boredom with or resentment of their parents demands and a sense that they can do better on their own to move forward. Not to hate each other or anything but a bit of impatience to get out there and live their best life.
posted by fshgrl at 10:50 AM on January 7, 2020 [14 favorites]

Everyone else has good advice on getting him out into the community and doing physical things, I would definitely try those if possible. They wouldn't have worked well on me as a kid, as the social anxiety of going out to interact with strangers and try to get a job would have killed it for me and immediately make me resent my parents. You don't mention social anxiety, but if that is an issue you may want to suggest ideas that aren't big on interaction. At this point I think your number one priority is to help him find a sense of motivation and ownership over something, his career may follow out of that, or he may just find a boring non-career job to support his passion hobby. But he has to want to do it himself.

There are a lot of things teenagers can learn to do that are primarily doable online, although many of them are enhanced by going to some workshops or community college classes. I don't know what skills your son has, but here's a random list of things I thought about when I was younger:

Creative Writing (lore ties into this)
Fan/non fiction writing for websites
Game development
Specialized IT consulting (this was Web 15 years ago)
Community management/moderation
Music/audio production
Graphic design

None of these are going to be high paying in the beginning, but anything he actually gets passionate about can be the start of real motivation
posted by JZig at 11:11 AM on January 7, 2020 [3 favorites]

Lots of good advice above. If you do find you want to pursue aptitude testing, I can recommend Johnson O’Connor. Their testing is in-person, comprehensive, and expensive, so you should ONLY do this if your kid is really into it. I was gifted an appointment there as a college graduation gift, and I personally found it valuable (and super interesting!). All the caveats that other people have raised about the limits of aptitude testing still apply—the tests didn't give me any insight into workplace culture etc, but did give me some insight into how my own brain works.
posted by Mender at 11:44 AM on January 7, 2020

You note that your stepson isn't suited to classrooms, and later give a big list of kinds of schools he could go to - it might help to broaden your perspective to things besides additional training.

As far as motivation, it sounds like a talk is in order about what kind of support he can expect from y'all once he finishes online high school. I agree with the advice that just trying out some different entry level jobs will give him useful information about what he might like to do, and needing to earn money to buy games / internet during daytime hours / whatever boundaries you set might be the incentive he needs.
posted by momus_window at 1:15 PM on January 7, 2020 [4 favorites]

I would pivot a little bit on this, and stop getting to think about what he does want to do, and encourage him with experimenting with different jobs to find out what he doesn't want to do, as well.

Young people often have quite high faluting ideas of what work is "below" them, and what they're capable of. There's nothing like some shit-kicking minimum wage jobs to give young people a keen understanding that these are not jobs they want to do for the rest of their lives. It's a great reality check in multiple ways, and they get friends, and they start to realise what kind of jobs they are interested in.

So, rather than asking what they are going to do (that kind of open-ended ambiguity is a bit full on for anyone, let alone you people), explain that you expect them to get a job and contribute to the household upon graduation, these are some local job options for teens, which ones are they going to apply for?
posted by smoke at 1:46 PM on January 7, 2020 [2 favorites]

As a stepdad myself to two men not much older than your own, I urge you to step away from the path you and his mother are walking. Unless there is a real reason why he must get a job the day after he gets his diploma, it would be better for him to go alone to the jungle than go to a vocational program picked out by his mom or stepdad or some poxy internet forum.
posted by parmanparman at 3:45 PM on January 7, 2020 [2 favorites]

Since he's interested in games, check out your local games community and see if there's stuff he can do! Game jams are a great entry-level way to try out game development and meet people in that field. All skills and levels are welcomed at good game jams; I started with hardly any game dev experience and still got to make pretty impactful games.

Also see if there are any local conferences or festivals he could volunteer at. I'm a volunteer manager for a local games festival here and we do get a good number of volunteers who sign up because they're interested in playing games and just want to be part of that world. It's a great way to meet people, you get to see the various options available in the industry, and it could inspire an idea of what to do next.
posted by divabat at 3:51 PM on January 7, 2020 [1 favorite]

Some skills are applicable across multiple industries: driving a forklift, for example. As a young man lacking direction prior to college, I found moving pallets around in a warehouse very satisfying, and if college hadn't worked out the forklift cert would have seen me into at least a starter job. You start out with a pallet jack (which are also fun), and then once you prove you aren't a menace you can move up to forklifts. The people my company employs who are skilled lift operators are doing pretty well. Union job is good too.

As far as tests, you can try the Myers-Briggs. People can try to do too much with the results, but I found it helpful for starting to understand what I wanted.

Lastly, something I tell my kids: if you are really lucky, you will like and enjoy a job other people find tedious. Those people are never unemployed!
posted by BeeDo at 4:08 PM on January 7, 2020 [3 favorites]

In addition to the Bureau of Labor Statistics' Occupational Outlook Handbook, which some have already mentioned here, I recommend reviewing O*NET OnLine (also published by the U.S. Department of Labor).

O*Net also provides an Interest Profiler questionnaire, which is an online career interest assessment.

Your stepson can also use O*Net to see how different careers rank on aspects that are important to him. Use the Advanced Search tools for this. For example, let's say you're interested in jobs that don't require a lot of public speaking. O*Net can provide you with a list of how important public speaking is for different careers. On the page I linked to, the careers associated with lower values (at the bottom of the list) are ones for which public speaking is less important.

I also find it helpful that O*Net puts a little sun icon next to "bright outlook" careers that are expected to see relatively high growth and/or a relatively high number of job openings in the future.
posted by oiseau at 5:01 PM on January 7, 2020 [6 favorites]

I am a career counselor and psychotherapist, but am not your or your stepson's and this is not career counseling or psychotherapy.

You have a lot of good suggestions already in this thread, the best of which is that taking advice about what your stepson should do from an internet forum isn't a great idea. Get him to a career counselor so he can figure this out with the help of a professional. If he doesn't like the first one he sees, take him to another.

I work with a lot of young people (and their parents) in similar situations and with comorbid mental health and neurodiversity factors. I use a variety of career assessments when appropriate such as the Strong, MBTI Career Report, SKILLS, Career Construction Interview, and more. What I've found is that younger folks might have *some* idea of their interests and skills but don't often have strong enough interests or skill awareness to show enough differentiation between all of the options in a way that would let us make a good choice with that data.

Additionally, at this age the "circumscription" messages are strong and self-awareness is low; that is the young person may have already written off many career options because of class, race, gender, ideas about education, etc, and not be aware they've done that.

What I have seen help the most with career development in young folks is actual job experience, while also working on self-awareness about their own reactions to the workplace, the people in it, and the work tasks. Feeling effective and accomplished does wonders for motivation and confidence.

What helps the least is continued complete parental financial support with no expectations of forward movement.
posted by MonsieurBon at 5:07 PM on January 7, 2020 [9 favorites]

smoke: Young people often have quite high faluting ideas of what work is "below" them, and what they're capable of.

As a caveat or maybe addendum to this--and please ignore this if it doesn't apply to you--sometimes these ideas come from the young people's parents, and sometimes it's less a high-falutin' idea about what work is "below" them and more a fear of failure that their parents will see that the only work they can do (at a particular stage of life) is something that should be "below" them. I would encourage you, OP, to examine, really really examine deeply if you and your wife have at all encouraged that belief. And maybe be really conspicuous about talking about how your first crappy job taught you so much and was important to your career and how everyone has to start somewhere and first jobs are for learning and growing.
posted by capricorn at 6:21 PM on January 7, 2020 [2 favorites] is a user-friendly interface to O*Net and BLS data. I find it easier to navigate myself.

Just be aware that BLS and O*Net data on salaries and growth projections are [US] nationwide averages and may not apply to your specific geographic area.
posted by SuperSquirrel at 6:31 PM on January 7, 2020 [3 favorites]

In terms of vocational work, what about a job in the trades that requires apprenticeship? I first thought of electrician, which I've done some research on; I believe you do some classwork and exams but then you find work with an experienced electrician and learn on the job.

Self-employment as an electrician or a general contractor could be suitable for an introvert.

If he goes into something like woodworking or metalworking, he could create art objects relating to WoW and LotR that he could enjoy.

Maybe he has an opportunity to invent his own unique career. A friend's family owns a mint that has a contract with the Tolkien organization to produce Tolkien coins. One of my cousins spent a few years producing welded iron gates that were sold as the art of a very famous folk singer.
posted by bendy at 9:35 PM on January 7, 2020

Some of my biggest career moments came out of me doing something out of character for me at the time. (That's sorta how I got into games actually - it wasn't entirely out of character as I'd been interested in games for a while but I hadn't considered actually seriously pursuing it until my first game jam.) Perhaps encourage your son to just try stuff with no expectation of it being a career or a future life path?

It may be that the pressure of Figuring Out What To Do With Your Life is getting him down, especially in this economy where jobs are not guaranteed and money is tight and the world is on fire anyway so who knows if we'd still exist in 20 years. Your son's generation is feeling it the most. He may not be lazing about for no good reason - he may genuinely not be able to imagine any sort of future being possible no matter what, and he may not be entirely wrong even though it's not his fault. Just go easy on him.
posted by divabat at 1:59 AM on January 8, 2020 [1 favorite]

The military is known either helping people "get their shit together" or leaving them with various different problems. Some people really, really like the structure.
posted by wnissen at 4:09 PM on January 8, 2020

Oblique strategy: ask him to design an analogue game in which the goal is to find an ideal career. Could be solitäre or multiplayer. A bit out there, I know, but it might fit his personality based on you description.
posted by Sterros at 10:56 AM on January 9, 2020

My 20 year old son is on the spectrum. He really wanted to move out and didn't want to go to school so we helped him get a job at McDonald's and move into an apartment. He worked there for a year, paid his own rent, would visit us every couple of weeks and finally quit after a year because they kept understaffing the kitchen and the pace and irrationality of it wore him out.

So now he's seeing the importance of college and taking three classes.
posted by mecran01 at 11:14 AM on January 10, 2020

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