Many of us can identify with the questions students are asked when they graduate from high school. Family, teachers and peers ask, “What are you going to do next?
An easy way for some students to reply may be to say, “I am going to college” or “I am going to university.” However, once they are in post-secondary, they are asked similar questions such as, “What are you going to do with that diploma/degree?”
Many students do not have a clear answer. In fact, I consider these unfair questions. Thinking back to our own experiences, could we have answered this question comprehensively when we were 18? I doubt it.
Career planning has changed
The student born in the year 2000 is facing a far more complex world than their parents encountered. Making career decisions is not straightforward and it is not simple. There are many reasons for this.
First, due to technological advances as well as socio-economic changes, jobs that do not currently exist will be created. We are not at all sure what those jobs may be. Current examples of positions that may not have existed 20 years ago are social media co-ordinator, IT security specialist, and building science and restoration technologist.
Secondly, even the jobs that do exist today may not be obvious suggestions that parents or teachers could make. In the office where I work at MacEwan University, staff titles include Experiential Learning Facilitator, Career Development Specialist, and Events and Database Assistant. In my young adult years, I could never have predicted that I would be the Manager of Career Development and Experiential Learning. Who had ever heard of such a thing?
Shifting the conversation
When speaking to young adults, we should consider changing our questions. What does the student need to know to make career decisions in a rapidly changing world?
For successful career management, students need: knowledge about themselves (their interests, values, skills and beliefs), ways to explore careers and educational programs, ways to track labour market information, knowledge about how they can integrate their own experiences and learning into decision-making, and tools to find and apply for employment or further education.
Career practitioners, family members and others can help guide the student by asking questions such as, “What do you want to do with your life?”, “What are you interested in?” or “What is important to you when you think about career?”. Open-ended questions such as these may lead to more questions. For example, if the student responds that they want to help people, mentors, teachers, counsellors or parents could respond with something like: “How do you want to help people?” or “Which skills would you like to use to help people?”
This discussion could be followed up with assisting the student in further career exploration such as accessing online resources that provide career information or arranging for the student to meet with or job shadow someone who does work that the student may be considering.
Providing necessary supports
I would argue that the majority of students do not find career management easy, especially in today’s complex world. Some students may pick up the skills and knowledge required for career management through their life experiences, but many young people are confused and overwhelmed about career decision-making. They do not have the guidance or the resources they need to take hold of career-planning techniques and they struggle. Better integration of career-planning techniques into secondary and post-secondary curriculum would help remedy this.
In my 24 years of working in post-secondary career development, I encountered many brilliant students who were involved in student leadership, had a high GPA, contributed to their communities as volunteers and held part-time and summer jobs successfully. Nonetheless, they told me that they felt that they had not done anything – meaning that they assumed they had not done anything that would interest a prospective employer. They were not able to identify transferable skills developed while they were in post-secondary. They greatly feared the imminent job search when they were about to graduate. They were not able to translate their academic, volunteer and employment experience on a resume so that an employer could understand how their experiences could be a good “fit.” We need to help students understand their value so that they can develop their resume or CV well before graduation.
At MacEwan University, our Career Development Office offers an online program focused on equipping students to manage their own careers. It is called “Navigating My Career Journey.” The program is free and can be accessed by any MacEwan student. Examples of module titles are: “Your Ideal Life,” “Increasing Your Self-Awareness,” “Developing A Positive Career Mindset,” “Participating in Career and Life Opportunities” and “Considering Possible Lives.” “Navigating My Career Journey” is not results-oriented, in that tips on writing resumes or preparing for interviews are not included. It is focused on the career management process. Kellie Fay and Cynthia Gracey Dunch were involved in developing this program.
Since Navigating My Career Journey was launched, almost 200 students have enrolled as well as several faculty and staff. We have found that because the program is available any time, free and accessible to all students, students may “cherry pick” sections. They do the program on their own time and in their own way. Student testimonials have been positive and thoughtful. We are grateful to MacEwan University, which provided various resources and support, and particularly to the MacEwan University School of Business, which assisted us financially to create this online program for students.