Youth sitting on brick wall
Students & Youth

Creating more equitable career exploration through a Challenge mindset

Reading Time: 4 minutes

For too long, we’ve encouraged students to prepare for their future by choosing a job title. However, matching students with job titles creates issues in diversity, equity and inclusion. Focusing on job titles limits their perspective to what they already know, instead of broadening their horizons. By helping students find challenges to solve instead, we can help them to truly thrive.

As a student, what happens when your options are limited by what you currently know? 

Meet Karima. She just started university, yet she has no idea what she wants to do. To figure it out, she is doing a career interest test. She keeps getting stuck on one of the questions: “Do you like to buy and sell stocks and bonds?” 

Karima isn’t sure what a stock or a bond is. As far as she knows, none of her friends, family or community have talked to her about this before. Since she isn’t familiar with the topic, Karima decides to answer “not interested” and move on. 

As career practitioners, we are aware of the consequences of this action, especially when it is compounded by countless other actions that are driven only by what students currently know. What if Karima comes from a disadvantaged background, a difficult home environment or an oppressed group? 

“Choosing a future self from the portfolio available in a child’s family and social structures serves to replicate the conditions of that structure into adulthood.”  Heather McGowan, Author, The Adaptation Advantage

JP Michel will be presenting on “The World Needs You – Choose Your Challenge” at CERIC’s virtual Cannexus22 conference, taking place Jan. 24-26, 2022. Learn more and register at

Most of us work with students facing barriers that have limited their exposure to the world of work. When we ask students like Karima to tell us where they want to go based on what they already know, we reinforce the status quo. 

This is why our focus should be on helping students broaden their horizons, instead of only looking backwards at what they already know.

“If they haven’t been exposed to scientific and technical careers, they’re less likely to self-report an interest in those job paths – after all, it’s hard to be interested in something that you know nothing about.”  Rich Feller, PhD, Past President of the National Career Development Association

Limited aspirations? 

A study of over 11,000 students by the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) aimed to find out just how “limited” students’ aspirations really are. The research project, title Dream Jobs? Teenagers’ Career Aspirations and the Future of Work, identified several issues with youth’s career aspirations: they are narrow, mismatched, stereotyped and locked in early. 

  • Narrow: 47% of boys and 53% of girls expect to work in one of just 10 popular jobs.
  • Mismatched: Significant mismatch between the career aspirations of children and labour market demands (“nothing in common”)
  • Stereotyped: Choices are heavily influenced by social background and gender. Stereotypes start at a young age.
  • Locked in early: Career aspirations are set at the age of 7 and change only slightly between then and the age of 18.

Interestingly, the research methodology also revealed another issue: that the career aspirations of youth are focused on job titles. When youth focus on seeing the world through job titles, they limit both their understanding of, and their future opportunities in, the world of work. To help youth truly unlock their potential, we need to help them look beyond job titles. 

Help youth broaden their horizons 

All students can broaden their horizons and take ownership of their future by using a Challenge mindset. The Challenge mindset is an approach to career exploration focused on finding challenges to work on, instead of job titles to fit into. For example, a student could choose to redesign our health-care system, reverse engineer the brain or increase sustainable energy.

When students explore challenges, they free themselves from the narrow, mismatched and stereotyped expectations of the world. They also free themselves to look beyond what they already know. And it’s when they look beyond that that they are able to let go of job titles as the main tool they have to plan their future. 

So, how can we help students transition from a job title mindset and into a Challenge mindset? I’d like to propose three steps:

Help students think outside the box: Help students understand there’s more out there than what they already know. Help them discover challenges through the Challenge Cards, the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals or another inspiring resource. There are so many challenges to work on and each individual has a unique contribution to make.

Make it real: Once they’ve picked an inspiring challenge to work on, make it come to life. Help them explore companies and people that are already working on these challenges. Next, they can engage in informational interviews, conferences, co-ops or internships. When they feel like they can see and participate in the community surrounding the challenge, students will become more motivated to take action. 

Go to them: What are some innovative ways for you to find the people that need you? Some of your students may be aware of the career resources available to them, so we must continue to find new ways to meet them where they are. What relationships can you build in your community to support students who need your help?  

For those of you who would like to learn more about the role of DEI in career exploration, please join us at Cannexus in the new year!

JP Michel Author
JP Michel is the creator of the Challenge Mindset and the Challenge Cards. This approach to career exploration is now used in hundreds of schools and post-secondary institutions around the world.
follow me
JP Michel Author
JP Michel is the creator of the Challenge Mindset and the Challenge Cards. This approach to career exploration is now used in hundreds of schools and post-secondary institutions around the world.
Latest Posts
  • Youth sitting on brick wall