For decades it was relatively easy to choose a career – girls tended to become teachers, nurses or secretaries, and boys became doctors, lawyers or took up a trade.
However, with the vast array of choices now available in a rapidly changing world of work, and the changes in perceptions and expectations of gender roles, this is no longer the case.
Caroline Sandford, career specialist at Love Your Career, sees a lot of young adults, many still at school. She says it’s usually a parent who has made the appointment, at a loss for knowing how to support their son or daughter at a very important decision-making time.
“Confusion, frustration and angst are present in both parents and their teen in how to make good decisions that will be sustainable yet enjoyable.”
On the upside, she has come to trust that most parents want the best for their young adult and are open to understanding their role in the process.
Sandford says there are a variety of ways parents can support teens in future career decision-making, starting with keeping up with what is happening in the changing world of work.
“Never before has a generation had to adapt so fast. Industries, jobs and skills are disappearing, new ones are being created and, as a parent, you need to stay current with what’s happening out there.”
Don’t panic over their choices
Supporting your teen is important even if their career choice is not what you had in mind for them, says Sandford.
“If your 17-year-old wants to join the Army, for example, ask questions about what they know and attend the recruitment with them to ensure they have the right information to make the decision.”
She says it’s important to understand that the choice your teen makes now is not for life.
“The new world of work means the old ideas of ‘a job for life’ and ‘continually changing jobs looks bad’ are no longer valid. Your teen may have five significant careers and 17 job changes over their lifetime!”
And Sandford notes that if your teen really can’t decide what to do, a gap year can be a perfect solution. It allows them to mature, become exposed to the world of work, travel and develop skills rather than go down a road that is not right for them.
Be guided by their interests
Parents can make the mistake of encouraging teens to keep options open by taking a broad range of subjects rather than focusing on a particular interest.
Sandford says parents can also tend to put value on certain subjects, like science and maths, and not on others like classics and art.
“But if your teen doesn’t enjoy a subject and doesn’t do well in it, continuing to study it could mean they end up hating school, feeling like a failure and having a decreased sense of self-worth.
“This is not what a parent wants for their teen. Notice where their spark and energy is drawn from and foster that.”
Encourage, don’t criticise
It’s easy to fall into a critical parenting role when raising teens, says Sandford, “complaining that they haven’t tidied their room or finished their homework, yet this is the very time when confidence and self-belief are often lacking in teens. It’s important to focus and comment on what they do well as this will have a positive impact on their self-belief.”
Another time to keep your opinions to yourself is in having negative views on particular jobs.
“What might be a nightmare of a job for you might be a perfect match for your teen,” says Sandford.
“Ask open questions to learn what your teen really understands about certain roles, and what they still need to find out.”
Encourage work experience
Sandford is often surprised by the scarcity of real-world learning teens are exposed to these days.
“Organise work experience in the field they’re interested in – the more they see and are exposed to, the more they will understand if it’s right for them or not.”
She notes that part-time work is the perfect opportunity to build confidence and competence in the world of work.
“Skills such as discipline, communication, customer service and good timekeeping are just a few positive by-products. Oh, and getting paid!”