While some educators and parents believe that career-readiness should start as early as possible, others believe it’s best for students to not “worry” about careers until college.
Regardless, most students are tasked with making big decisions related to their careers, like which major to declare in college, often before the age of 18, so it is our responsibility to help them explore their interests and make the best decisions for themselves.
Here’s how educators and parents can create environments where students can explore career options and validate their interests:
- Have Real Career Conversations. These conversations include talking about the hard stuff. Organizational psychologist, Adam Grant says protecting kids from struggle may be counterproductive. Failure is inevitable during one’s career journey. When adults are willing to talk about their own failures and challenges, they appear more approachable. This creates an opportunity for students to share their own concerns regarding career choices with these adults, and ask genuine questions. As educators, encourage students to have these career conversations with adults in their lives, creating time within the classroom to help students identify those people and learn the etiquette needed to have these conversations. As parents, use dinner-time as an opportunity to discuss challenges you’re facing as an adult, and encourage your children to share their opinions.
- Have a Documentary Day/Night. Documentaries are a great way for us to learn about topics we may know nothing about, or get new perspectives on topics we care about. Let the students or your children choose the topic or documentary - there are tons available on Netflix. Get everyone’s favorite snacks and enjoy. Bonus: Have a discussion during and/or after.
- Maintain Open Communication. Do not put career labels on your students or children. I’ve seen too many educators and parents assume a child will go down a certain path due to their skills in a specific area or due to family history. Instead, ask thoughtful and open-ended questions - encourage students to reflect on their own interests and create a list of career options to explore. As parents, stay open-minded and supportive, especially when your child wants to explore a field you may have negative bias towards or know nothing about. Allow your child to educate you on their opinion, and have open conversations to share perspectives.
- Encourage Networking in Day-to-Day Activities. Every student I know is involved with some sort of service project. Most students simply do the service and then move on to the next project. Instead, empower students to interact with the people doing service alongside them. Whether they be the same age, younger, or older, help your student learn how to start meaningful conversations and network with anyone and everyone.
- Leverage Family Ties. Most students do some sort of “Family Tree” project. As educators, instead of just having students focus on finding names and relationships within their family ancestry, have students learn about the personalities and careers of their family members. As a parent, encourage extended family members to share their ambitions, goals, and challenges during family meals and outings.
Having the space to explore career options as a student is key. Parents and educators alike can create an environment in which students feel comfortable discussing their interests and how they can translate into career paths. While these are just a few ways to pave the way for career exploration, a customized approach can help play to each individual student’s strengths.