Teenagers and Career Choices

I still remember a talk from the “careers teacher” when I was at school, back in the 1970’s. I remember, also, being somewhat sceptical when he claimed that his small, plastic box of index cards contained information about all the known careers that might be open to us. Things have moved on a lot since then, many schools have career guidance specialists on their staff, but the explosion of career opportunities may well mean that today’s teenagers are as ill-informed about the range of possibilities available to them as I consider myself to have been all those years ago.

For today’s teenagers, however, the picture is considerably more confusing than it would have been for teenagers even just a few years ago. The annually increasing pace of technological change has had an enormous impact, and the emergence of increasingly able robots will ensure the pace of change continues to accelerate. This will mean that many current jobs will no longer exist by the time today’s younger teenagers enter the workforce, and many of the careers/jobs upon which today’s teenagers will embark do not even exist at the current time.

Projections concerning the future of employment indicate that today’s teenagers are far less likely to enter lifelong careers than many did in the past. They are likely to work much more in a series of project-based jobs in a kind of portfolio career. This will require the development of new skills and will heighten the importance of resilience. It will also increase the need for retraining at points of transition. Whilst the jobs may change fairly regularly, however, the general area within which a person works seems likely to remain generally consistent. For many teenagers, the choice of a career path will be about setting this general direction.

Advice for parents

Be aware of the following:

  • The world of work has changed considerably since you first entered it. Legal requirements, employer/employee expectations and responsibilities, workplace culture and practices have all changed since you first entered the world of work, resulting in a very different environment for today’s teenager. Recruitment practices and educational expectations have changed too, so make sure the advice you give to your teenager is based on up-to-date knowledge rather than out-of-date personal experiences.
  • Your teenager is a unique individual. Perhaps the biggest mistake a parent can make in the area of career choices is to assume that their teenager will follow in the footsteps of their parent. This simply does not follow automatically, and parents who set out to force their teenagers into their own mould can end up creating years of sadness and resentment in their children. A similar mistake occurs if parents see their children as channels through which they can seek vicariously to live out their own unfulfilled dreams. Your teenager is a unique individual with enormous potential, and it is the role of parents to be helpers to their teenagers in finding the best way for their potential to be realised both for their own good and for that of society.
  • University is not necessarily the best route into a career. For an increasing number of teenagers, a university or college education has come to be seen almost as a rite of passage. For many, it is a good choice; but for others, there are alternative routes that may serve them better as part of their preparation for the future.

Help your teenager discover what is best for them. Reasons that teenagers find it difficult to determine their future path vary enormously. The chosen career direction is laden with life-shaping potential, so it is well worth investing time and resources into making the choice a well-informed one. The teenager’s character, strengths and desires are all important factors. Put simply: some are better suited to some careers than others. As your teenager forms ideas about the direction they may wish to go, encourage them to find some kind of work experience that will help them discover what their potential career path may be like. Voluntary involvement is possible in some career areas; holiday internships might be possible in others; opportunities to meet people from various careers and, if possible, to visit them in their workplace – all these can be useful in helping them gain the insights that will lead to well-informed choices. Through it all, ask questions about their thoughts and experiences to help them clarify their thinking. Get them to explain why they think a particular career is for them. Listen carefully to what they say, challenge their assumptions, suggest a few alternatives they might like to check out, but avoid telling them what to do. Ultimately, their chosen career direction might be one of the most far-reaching decisions they will ever make, so it is important that it is their decision.

Advice for teachers and schools

Help teenagers appreciate a range of opportunities. One of the dangers for teenagers when trying to figure out their career direction is that they simply “fall into” one of the first areas they come across. This can, of course, work out well for some; but for others, it may lead to a lifetime of “If only I’d known …” statements and a persistent feeling of a lack of fulfilment. Schools have an important role in helping teenagers come to an understanding of at least some of the vast range of career opportunities that exist in today’s world. Schools use a variety of approaches, including work placements, vocational discovery programmes, career fairs, etc. Whatever approaches are used, it is important that they are sufficiently varied to be able to inspire interest in a diverse range of students. In this area, schools working cooperatively (for example, across a city) could represent a way of providing a wider range of insights into career opportunities than any one school can hope to provide when operating alone.

Preparation of students for the future is an important focus. The rapidly changing nature of modern society brings new challenges to the schools and teachers of today. If predictions are correct that today’s teenagers are likely to face frequent career changes during their working lives, then adaptability, innovation and resilience will grow in importance. More than ever before, schools need to be looking at ways to ensure their programmes help develop the “people” of the future as well as providing the academic foundations upon which future knowledge developments can take place. The likely need for periodic re-training during the working lives of current teenagers means that education will need to be seen as a lifelong pursuit much more than it is currently. To that end, teachers who can excite students about education and ignite in them a genuine desire for discovery and learning are providing an invaluable preparation for the future, whatever form it may ultimately take.

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