We know that young people overwhelmingly turn to their parents for career advice. So how can you help parents help their children?
By Robert Shewchuk
What our children choose to do for a living will affect every aspect of their lives. Their career will influence when they get up and when they go to sleep, who they spend time with for eight hours per day, and what neighbourhoods they can afford to live in. Their future employment will help shape and define who they become. The question is, who do young Canadians turn to for career advice?
Studies show that young Canadians overwhelmingly turn to their parents for career direction because they trust their parents more than strangers armed with vocational assessments and good intentions. Why wouldn’t they? After all, it is the parents who have spent the better part of 20 years making sure their children were well taken care of and had a wide range of life experiences. Then, just when parents believe they have done everything to help their children to be ready to embark on their life’s journey, their children turn to them and say, “What should I be when I grow up?”
For many parents, this simple phrase causes fear and panic because they do not know how to answer it. They assumed that since their children have attended multiple career fairs, taken several online interest tests over the years and have had career guidance throughout high school, that they would have a strong career direction after they graduate high school. But, what if they don’t?
Since parents are the primary source for career advice for many young Canadians, it is important that they know what the career professionals know in order to be an effective career coach. They need to understand that choosing a career involves encouragement, multiple layers of self-discovery, a ton of labour market research and a well-designed plan.
Here is a top 10 list of strategies parents can use to engage in their children’s career development based on my book, Careers For Kids – How To Help Your Kids Choose A Career:
- Happiness is The goal
In today’s global economic uncertainty, it is easy to focus solely on “top 10” career lists that offer high salaries, long-term security and future growth while losing sight of the ultimate goal – personal happiness. Instead, focus on who they are (beliefs, interests, natural skills, personality) and what they want (lifestyle rewards like houses, cars, vacations, travel, leisure) first, then see how they may fit within any particular career. Parents should encourage their children to dream big, take risks, try new things and have fun along the way by offering a supportive relationship so they can decide what career works for them.
2. Listen more, speak less
We tend to interpret other people’s messages using our own biases, assumptions and experiences. Being open, objective, attentive, and non-judgemental when listening to their children will allow parents to avoid making that mistake. In the same vein, we need to be mindful of the generation gap when we share “when I was your age” stories. It is very easy to subconsciously rely on old assumptions and stereotypical ideas about work from 20 years ago. Instead, parents may want to let their children know that they were once their age too, with more questions than answers.
3. Be supportive, not directive!
Choosing a career is not a life sentence! Their children should know that they are just planning the first stage in a lifetime of career decision making and that it’s OK for them to make mistakes and change their minds along the way. Parents may want to also reassure them that they are not expected to follow the same career path as the parents did and admit that they do not have all the answers.
4. Challenge their career beliefs
When researching careers, any negative beliefs their children have based on partial truths or hearsay should be challenged to prevent them from dismissing a career choice. For instance, if they believe trades are for “dummies,” have them speak to the local apprenticeship board where they will find out many trades require strong math, reasoning and communication skills.
5. Career exposure
Expose children to as many careers as possible by having them learn about what their parents, members of their family, family doctor, dentist, etc., do for a living. They could also experience the real work world through part-time work and volunteerism to have a better understanding of their skills, interests and values. Keep in mind, though, that the easiest and most fun way for children to learn about who they are and what their talents are is found through play, not work. So, children should also be enrolled in different sports and hobbies to help them identify their interests, skills and passions.
6. Labour market trends
Pay attention to labour market trends that are currently reshaping the Canadian economy that may affect the growth or decline of a particular career choice. For example, western provinces have recently benefitted from growth in natural resources like oil and potash, while eastern provinces have seen jobs decline in the manufacturing and the public sectors.
7. Career mashers
If their children have trouble deciding on any one career, have them mash two or more careers together. If their child has a strong interest in writing, but has a passion for saving the environment, then why not become an environmental writer? If they want to be a carpenter, but want to be a part of the entertainment industry, why not build movie sets in Hollywood?
8. Career mooching
If their children want to be part of emerging career sectors like science, technology, health, engineering or finance but are not mathematically inclined, tech-savvy or suited to engineering, they should consider “career mooching.” Their children can still work in these growing industries by working in support roles like human resources management, marketing, technical writing, etc.
9. Post-secondary commitment
Tuition fees, time and deferred income all have to be considered when committing to any post-secondary program. Students who attend university or college without knowing why and not having a career goal in mind tend to lose motivation and are at a higher risk of dropping out. So, if their children are not 100% fully committed to whatever training they are applying to, the children may want to continue researching their career options.
10. Not ready yet? Take a gap year
Children may not be ready to commit to either work or post-secondary education for up to a year (or more) after leaving high school. They may simply feel burnt out and generally unmotivated after spending their entire lives up to this point in school. Parents need to know that taking a gap year can be a very beneficial time for young people to pursue local or international volunteer opportunities that allow them to experience life from a totally different perspective.
Robert Shewchuk is a career development practitioner with over 15 years of experience working with post-secondary, secondary and government career programs. He is currently the owner of Start Smart Careers and author of Careers For Kids – How To Help Your Kids Choose A Career. Robert can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or startsmartcareers.com.