Career success is a significant contributor to positive health, social and economic outcomes. Given the significance of career to overall well-being, it is important that we introduce career reflection to children at an early age. Scholars agree that guiding young students to voice career dreams and thoughts leads them to be mindfully aware as they explore future occupational paths. A new school year is the perfect time to build on summer experiences and initiate discussions on career exploration.
Various scholars emphasize the importance of young adulthood as a stage of exploration. Many of them talk about the importance of having access to career discussions during this period. Others stress the risks we take by not starting these discussions sooner than later.
- According to Donald Super (1975), the exploration stage starts at age of 15, when young adults need to be encouraged to self-evaluate as they initiate their independent life journey. Teaching students to reflect on the possible career trajectories of favourable experiences and hobbies is one way to ensure positive results from this self-evaluation period.
- Jeffrey Arnett coined the theoretical term Emerging Adulthood when referring to youths between the ages of 18 and 25 (2000). He describes this as the period in between post-adolescence and pre-adulthood. At this stage, a new independence arises where the emerging adult has an opportunity to explore the world and the possibilities it has to offer without parental restraints or the responsibilities that come with adulthood.
- Linda Gottfredson’s (2002) theory highlights the importance of the work of career coaches, mentors and counsellors. Her theory is about the different stages of development and emphasizes the importance of self-concept. Among the stages in Gottfredson’s theory is “orientation to the internal, unique self” (ages 14 and above), when young adults start to let go of their dreams based on societal and environmental demands. This is particularly relevant in delineating the importance of early career reflection.
Whatever label or age bracket you choose to adopt, what is important is that young people need tangible support to figure out their future career paths. Many of them go to university or start careers and too quickly find that they made the wrong choice since their expectations were not met (Liz Freedman, 2013). Research continues to show that career exploration/clarification at a young age increases students’ motivation and commitment to their choices (Veerle Germeijs & Karine Verschueren, 2007). It is only when students educate themselves on the available options and reflect on their interests that they become emotionally invested and mentally dedicated (Germeijs & Verschueren, 2007).
The role of parents and educators
Discussing career opportunities and exploring possible career paths at or before the age of 14 is therefore important for your students’ or young clients’ well-being. For young adults, it is “a period of learning more about one’s psychological profile, especially as it affects one’s public self, that is, the public presentation of who we can and want to be” (Gottfredson, 2002, p. 100). ln short, it is the stage where students start the process of figuring out what is important and what is possible. Without much reflection, this process may initiate the downhill compromise of their childhood dreams for more realistic or doable paths.
Parents and teachers need to grasp the beliefs and attitudes of the young people in their lives before it is too late. All you need to do is reach out and communicate with them individually and support them to verbalize their subconscious knowledge. Understanding what they are thinking about their life trajectories will not only enable you to support them to attain and maintain career well-being but will also increase their commitment to the choices they make.
Your challenge is to provide one-on-one opportunities for students to share their interests and talk about what keeps them busy on a daily basis. You need to ask questions that relate to what keeps them motivated as they go through their everyday life. Question such as, “how was your day/summer?”, “what is keeping you busy these days?” and “how are you feeling about your day/about what you accomplished today?” will provide you and them with clues as to their hobbies and interests. The next step is the process of building on this knowledge.
There are plenty of free online resources that provide career exploration guidance. My two personal favorites are O*Net Online, which is sponsored by the US Department of Labour, and the Government of Alberta’s Alis. Each website is unique and loaded with information. Take the time to explore them to find out which you feel will work best in guiding your child or student.
As students head back to school, there are many ways to incorporate early career exploration in daily life. If students seem undecided, support them to increase career awareness and pinpoint interests, values and abilities. You can achieve this by encouraging and providing opportunities for:
- Reflection on experience
- Reflection on interests and values
- Utilization of skills and talents
Effectively, the most important action you need to take is to provide the human touch. Believe in your students’ abilities and trust that they subconsciously know what is good for them.
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