Career planning

Almost 80% of youngsters entering the world of work say that their parents were their biggest career influence. This may explain the many cases of children following in a parent’s footsteps. Think Jaden and Willow Smith, Nico Rosberg or, closer to home, Jesse Clegg. If your child is a maths whiz and you cringe at the thought of calculating the tip on a restaurant bill, your influence as a parent is massively important. Navigating career options is a daunting task for youngsters, particularly with the ever-growing choice that technology and communications advancements have opened up.

While some fortunate youngsters know exactly what they want to be in life from a very early age, the majority vacillate between this and that and stay undecided well into their teenage years. Start having conversations with your child about his plans after school when he is in grades 8 and 9. This will help him to put his mind to what he really likes and feels that he will excel in. Most importantly, it will enable him to choose the correct subjects for his proposed career.

Encourage your child to do maths and science, even if she wants to be a dancer or a chef. In today’s ultra competitive world, these two subjects are no longer nice-to-haves. Your child may wish to change career at some stage and the new path may just demand proficiency in maths and science.

With a world of careers out there, your child may feel overwhelmed. Here are some pointers to simplify the process:

  • Encourage your child to take the Fasset career quiz to assess what kind of occupations suit his personality traits.
  • Talk to your teen about what he wants to do, which may be different from the future you envisage for him. Explore his passions, because an employee is far more likely to be fulfilled at work if he is doing something he loves and that is aligned with his passions.
  • Encourage him to research careers on the internet and, moreover, to read about the career paths of personalities or people he admires. These stories are sometimes very revealing in terms of the course lives take en route to the right career.
  • Share your own career story with him and ask other family members to do likewise.
  • Suggest that he talks to his career guidance teacher at school, who will be able to point him in the direction of the most helpful resources.
  • If he is interested in a specific field, help him to find  events/talks that will offer more insight and information.
  • Visit career expos with him.
  • If possible, take him to work with you one day, or ask another family member or friend to do so that he can gain some insight into working life. Better still, if he has identified a preferred career, approach someone in that field to host him.
  • Talk to his teacher about work experience opportunities.
  • Be positive and encouraging, rather than dismissive and negative about careers in which he may be interested.

Subject selection

As mentioned previously, subject choice is very important. It is also a challenging time for youngsters, but you can help by discussing the options and exploring how different choices could affect your teenager’s future. As a first step, discuss which subjects he does or doesn’t enjoy, enjoy. Also, consider the subjects he is good or not good in. Certain subjects may be compulsory, or necessary to qualify for their chosen tertiary course or career. Chat about his interests and talents outside school. Although you want your child to look to the future and choose subjects that will help him towards a career, he should also consider his passions, as these are the subjects in which he is most likely to excel.

Encourage your child to talk to his teachers, particularly those who teach the subjects in which he is interested. STEM subjects (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) are highly sought after, particularly in industries and occupations that have emerged with the tremendous advances in technology and communications. The importance of these skills to the wellbeing of the South African economy cannot be overestimated and there is increasing pressure on youngsters to matriculate with good maths and science marks to their credit.

STEM skills are prerequisites for entry into nursing and allied health, bioscience, aircraft engineering, digital technology, accountancy; for trades, such as electrical and plumbing and even for motor mechanics. But, they are an advantage whatever career is being considered. A good way to introduce discussions on these subjects is to snatch opportunities such as the home computer crashing or an electricity outage. Even activities such as cooking, music and poetry are linked to maths and can be used to highlight the importance of maths proficiency.

If you encourage your child to get a part-time job or volunteering position, STEM skills will doubtlessly feature in the activity, besides which nothing beats real experience to prove that these skills are needed in the workplace. However, STEM subjects are no walk in the park. They’re more rigorously graded than other subjects, and amid the emphasis placed on test results, scholars may not be benefiting from the inspiring hands-on learning that leads to enduring interest. Instead, they may develop ‘maths anxiety’ and also quit science because they don’t think they’re smart.

Encourage your child to think it’s worth giving it a good enough try before it becomes hard, and to push through even if it’s challenging. And check yourself in the way you praise. Stanford University research shows that parents often praise the ability, the talent or the intelligence too much. The opposite is praise for the process the child engages in - his hard work, trying many strategies, focus, perseverance, learning through errors, improvement. Praise doesn’t have to be outright praise. It will be enough to do a STEM-related activity with your child and saying, ‘Hey, how did you do that?’ and be interested in the process.

The goal is to foster a love for these subjects. If you force your child to solve maths problems before he can do a fun activity maths can become the villain.

An urge to drop out

Living in a world where one can become, for example, a YouTube millionaire when still a child or where the youngster sees a future in professional sports, some youngsters can’t see the worth in finishing school. Your child may be having learning difficulties or emotional problems, both of which may affect his ability to make an informed decision. As a parent or guardian, you need to support him by discussing the implications of his choice and to remind him that school-taught skills are important whatever he dreams of becoming, as there will come a time when he will need fallback skills.

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