Having careers conversations with our children

What do you want to do when you grow up?

It’s the question that adults love to ask children. It invites a response that reveals something about the child, and we often find joy in their hope-filled, optimistic dreams and visions for their lives. We delight in the way that God creates each child uniquely and for a purpose.

In my role as Careers Coordinator, I notice that for many students this question sometimes becomes one that they would rather avoid, largely because they think they need to know the answer and feel anxious that they don’t. I would estimate that by Year 10, roughly 30% of students know what occupation they wish to pursue after they leave school, and by the start of Year 12 it may have increased to 60%.

It is really important for students to be reassured as to these figures and to know that they don’t need it all sorted. In fact, we often joke that many people their parents’ age still don’t know 'what they want to do'.

So how can we walk with our young adults at this time in their lives as they face decisions around what to do when they leave school?

Firstly, I like to emphasise the word 'informed' in my practice and teaching (I teach a Year 10 Careers class fortnightly). It’s all about making an informed choice about the next steps. This might be with a view to a very specific future career, or simply to the very next step in front of them such as which senior secondary pathway they will take (academic or applied?). So then, what 'information' do they need to be armed with before making these decisions. I would suggest the following as a start:

  1. Information about themselves: Here I am talking about individual personality traits. In Year 10 Careers, one of the first things I have students doing is a Myers Briggs based personality profiling quiz. There are lots of excellent personality theories out there, but this one is relatively simple and easy for students of this age to engage with. It is important to emphasise that the aim is not to put people in boxes but that the 'results' of these tests provide useful signposts to understanding ourselves better and the types of jobs that might be a better fit for our personality than others. Also, as Jesus would have us do, they can help us understand, and have compassion for one another’s differences. We also need each other’s different strengths and qualities to function as a team in the workplace and as a community in general. Through personality profiling students start to think about whether they might be energised by working with lots of people or would prefer to work on their own. One student might identify that they are an 'ideas' person who likes to discuss possibilities and theories, while another realises that they prefer to be given a clear directive and do that job with great attention to detail. 
  2. Information about their interests: Sometimes students struggle to be able to decisively say that they would be interested in a particular job when they don’t know anything about it. This is where Work Experience can be invaluable (our Year 10 students have the opportunity to complete a Work Experience placement in the middle of this year). Talking to family and friends who may be employed in a profession of interest, can be of great benefit. In Career’s language we call this an 'Informational Interview'. The internet is also an incredibly rich source of information with many excellent careers websites out there that include videos of interviews with a wide range of people from different industries. If students are still undecided as to a career interest in their final year of school, again much of the conversation can be around focusing on the next step in front of them. What do they enjoy learning about? Be careful of asking them what they 'love'. It is often too strong a word for a subject at school! However, if students can identify a subject that they find engaging, the content is easy to remember and they catch themselves talking animatedly about it, this can be a good signpost to possible further study options.
  3. Information about their values: What do they value in a job? Is it helping people rather than making lots of money? Perhaps it is status in the community? Maybe it is the ability to work independently, or have a stable, secure job? Do they want to be free to share their Christian faith with those around them in the workplace? Or rather than asking the question, “What do you want to do?” you might like to ask, “Who do you want to be?” “What sort of person do you want to be?” What do they value in themselves? Do they want to be someone that is caring, welcoming, problem solving? Most people would contend that seeing their job as making others’ lives better in some way is a significant source of motivation and brings a sense of purpose and fulfilment to their lives. At MECS we are privileged to be able to freely share with our young people that real fulfilment comes through loving God and loving our 'neighbour' (Mark 12:30-31). It seems that no matter one’s faith perspective, there seems to be general consensus in this regard.
  4. Information about the workforce and future job growth: It is prudent to ensure that students are aware of what the predicted job growth will be for their chosen industry, particularly if one of their key values is job security. Which jobs will be most in demand in the future? While it is important that students follow their interests and passions, these pragmatic discussions are just as vital. The websites at the end of this article contain useful information around job outlook.

Our conversations are important. In conversations, ideas are bounced around, rejected, sparks ignited. Our young people need older, experienced people to have these career conversations with. They need to hear our life stories; how we got to where we are now; how we may have started on one path and by a chance encounter with someone, we ended up on another. They need to know that they don’t have to have it all sorted, but they are supported, and it is never too early or too late to think about what 'we want to do when we grow up'.

Careers website suggestions:

https://mecscareers.com/ : Explore our own careers website with information on senior secondary pathways as well as post school options.