Our Annual Survey of parents shows that most of you help your child by talking about their education, which involves guiding them in making decisions about their future career. The findings also suggest that not all parents are as confident in their ability to give their child good advice, and part of this is down to the changing nature and dynamics of the job market. Our children are likely to have less security but arguably more choice (with short-term and zero-hours contracts), contribute to an economy that has changed from industry-based to services-based in recent decades, and meet the challenges of the impact of technology.
Children look to their parents for advice. As key influencers in a child's decision-making, the more confident and informed parents are, the better-able they will be to help. Schools can play their part in equipping parents too, where great home/school relationships ensure consistent messaging and a good quality of advice to help a child feel supported in making big decisions. Parents and children alike can feel stressed when preparing for the future, but it's important to keep everything in perspective, and remember that for young people, plenty of doors remain open.
Here are a few hints and tips for parents to help guide their child in considering a career.
Does what lies beyond your own experience have more relevance for your child?
Of course our children take after us and are influenced by us, but they are shaped by many factors and may have completely independent tastes and abilities. There's no point nudging a child towards your career of accounting if their weakest subject is maths, and there may be little point trying to persuade them into the family dog-grooming business if their passion is physics. It will be obvious which subjects most stimulate your child's mind, and talking to them about considering how they might apply their knowledge to future careers is a great way to help them connect their school work to their potential as an adult. If you have a family friend, colleague or relative whose career is more closely aligned with your child's strengths, ask them to chat to your child about it. Most people are more than happy to help.
Work experience pays off
Gaining a bit of insight into a chosen field will prove fantastic learning for your child. They may spend a week in a work environment and come away fired up with enthusiasm, with concrete plans about their future career. They may even realise it's not for them after all and completely change their mind. In truth, it's more likely to fall somewhere in between. If your child is at least sixteen, finding a work placement should be possible and many companies are happy to accommodate. Do you have a friend or contact in a relevant industry who can mentor them, or put in a good word? Perhaps the school’s PTA can help out here. After all, most parent groups benefit from volunteers from a wide range of backgrounds, and the more parents who can be encouraged to respond to a ‘shout out’ the better.
A careers event leading to work experience for children at school would hugely benefit many children, especially those whose parents may not have as wide or as influential a list of contacts to ask for help. Also, it doesn't hurt to think big. If your child is keen to explore journalism, see if they are willing to apply to national newspapers as well as the local journal. Rejection is hard, but a reality of the workplace. As long as you have a backup plan and they don't have their heart set on one place, it will be a constructive experience. Perhaps you can help them to research places they might like to approach and draw up a shortlist of potential options? If they've never applied before, guiding them to researching what they need to do to make a good approach will give them valuable life lessons.
Keep an open mind on the options
Parental expectations vary, but many parents expect that their child will follow a particular route. For the more academic child, this may be from A-levels to a university degree, especially if an older sibling has already taken this path. But this may not be in the best interests of every child, and there is an increasing number of options available for post-16 study. Following a drive in recent years to expand apprenticeships, the government is now also set to roll out the first T levels, the new technical qualifications that will offer young people vocational training as an alternative to A-levels, which will be phased in from 2020. These technical vocations are popular and can be very lucrative.
Work readiness requires more than academic success
Soft skills or life skills are also essential to nurture in order to prepare your child for the workplace. Employees look for many factors in potential recruits. Could a week of work experience leave a lasting positive impression and a door ajar? It will if your child has self-confidence, but is still willing to learn from those more experienced; is assertive but self-reflective about their own limitations and weaknesses; can collaborate and negotiate whilst standing their ground when they need to; can find new ways of problem-solving without insisting that other ways are wrong; can be flexible and adaptable while maintaining a solid work ethic and integrity; can communicate well without talking too much (or too little) to colleagues. Skills to survive and thrive in the workplace vary from job to job, but many of the basics remain the same, and can be learned.
Consider other options
So you've offered your child your own knowledge and experience, and discussed their strengths and potential with them, and what their options are for higher education and careers. Maybe you've persuaded friends or colleagues to talk to them about their jobs, and perhaps work experience has been sought and agreed. But there are other opportunities to help narrow down options. Your school/local college is likely to have a careers fair where your child can talk to representatives across businesses, industries and sectors. You never know what ideas may be generated! Don’t forget online resources such as the National Careers Service and the Prince’s Trust.
It's not final - people change careers
If your child is scared by the idea of making a "life-sentence" decision, then reassure them that people change careers all the time, and in greater numbers than ever before. Perhaps they think their teachers have always been teachers, even though many of them have entered the profession after years of experience elsewhere, or may leave the profession in future. It’s true that changing careers isn't always easy. It often requires retraining, which, if you're holding down a job, may mean night school, or it may require a few years of volunteering during evenings and weekends, but there are sometimes government grants and initiatives to help people into making the career change that is right for them. Most of our MPs enjoyed other careers before entering politics. The old days of a "job for life" are diminishing, and people apply their skill sets in a variety of positions throughout their working life. If your child speaks to somebody older than fifty, they are likely to hear about a career journey that has taken many twists and turns, not all of them expected!