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          Front Page

Picking the Right Path

By Richard Metcalf
Journal Staff Writer
          Many of the more than 80,000 unemployed workers in New Mexico, nearly half of whom are in the Albuquerque metro area, are likely having doubts about their career choice or are thinking hard about a new one.
        Choosing a career can be a weighty decision, although sometimes a career chooses you.
        "We fall into what we do," said Jeff Parker, regional manager of Manpower Inc. in Albuquerque. "Sometimes, it's just landing a job with the right company."
        From a proactive perspective, however, choosing a career can be as much art as it is science. Factors in the decision range from a gut feeling or "listening to your heart" to taking a battery of tests — personality profile, career aptitude, skills assessment, inventory of values — and doing the research.
        "In a way, it's really about an individual doing an environmental scan around them," said Jennifer Cornish, associate director of academic advisement and career development at Central New Mexico Community College. "It's the concept of asking those powerful questions."
        These may include: "What are the needs of my community? What are my own expectations? What are the practical realities of my situation? What kind of commitment am I willing to make? Am I willing to spend 'X' number of years in training?" she said.
        'Needs of the community' translates to basically who's hiring. The immediate prospects are not good, with only 13 percent of employers in the metro planning to add staff in the final three months of this year, according to the latest Manpower Employment Outlook Survey.
        For broader long-term hiring prospects, Parker recommended free reports that are available under publications at the Bureau of Labor Statistics website, www.bls.gov. He commented, "They have some eye-popping information."
        The bureau's Occupational Outlook Handbook, 2010-11 Edition, has thorough analyses of thousands of careers, including job outlooks and projections. The Career Guide to Industries, 2010-11 Edition, is a companion to the handbook and provides similar information.
        A common source of guidance in choosing a career is the career counseling office at one of the local colleges. Most have the service available. In addition, CNM will offer several public workshops on the theme "Careers in Uncertain Times" during the fall term. Once scheduled, the workshop times and dates will be posted on the college's website, www.cnm.edu.
        Higher education has seen a surge in enrollment during the recession, attributed in large part to workers seeking new job skills or building on existing ones. For example, CNM had a record-high 29,776 students as of Sept. 15. The University of New Mexico has a record 3,580 beginning freshmen for its fall semester and a total enrollment of 27,700 full- and part-time students at the university's main campus.
        "Education is perhaps the one place of opportunity during economic downturns," Cornish said. "People can think in a positive way."
        Career counselors or advisors won't pick a career for you, but they can help you overcome ambivalence about changing careers or narrow the field of choices. They can provide the various tests and resources to explore how various college programs tie into career paths.
        But in the end, it's up to the individual to decide what factors — doing something you enjoy, for example, or doing something that pays well — are most important in choosing a career.
        Some suggested steps in choosing a career on your own
        1. Write down a list of things you like to do or are good at doing.
        2. Take career assessment tests available at bookstores or online.
        3. Think up different jobs where you do things you enjoy and think of things you have an aptitude for.
        4. Research those jobs. The Bureau of Labor Statistics website at www.bls.gov has helpful free publications.
        5. Don't ignore your personal feelings or values when considering a career path.

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