National Careers Week: Helping young people to take their first career step

As an outplacement consultant, I am privileged to spend a lot of my time helping people work out what they want to do next and create a plan to make it happen. As this is National Career’s Week – a celebration of careers guidance to help support young people develop awareness and excitement about their steps after compulsory education – I have been thinking about the similarities and differences between helping an experienced adult and a fresh-out-of-school adolescent work out what they want to do next.

It can be daunting as a parent or carer to know how to best support school-leavers at this crucial point, and often we don’t know how best to approach it ourselves, so here are my top tips for supporting those teenagers in your life as they think about their next step.

Equip yourself with knowledge

Ever feel like ‘it wasn’t like that in my day!’? With T-levels, BTECs, apprenticeships and more, it’s easy to feel lost in the array of options and already feel ill-informed before even attempting a conversation with someone else. So get yourself into a position of knowledge – the National Careers Service is a great starting point for explaining the different options and requirements.

Remind them (and you!) that they are not making a decision for the rest of their life

Even 20 years on from leaving school I can vividly remember the pressure I felt at 16 or 17 to make the ‘right’ choice. It’s a narrative we unconsciously instil all through childhood with questions like, ‘what do you want to be when you grow up?’ giving the idea that you have to pick one thing and stick to it, or that your identity is determined by your career. But in reality, so many of us have such wide and varied careers, or multiple careers throughout the course of our working life, it’s a useful reminder that the choices made now aren’t carving a rock-solid path that can never be changed. By trying to take the pressure off and getting back to excitement, you’re both more likely to have an enjoyable and productive conversation.

It can be a useful reminder as a parent, too, that if they’re heading off on a different path to the one you might have chosen for them, that doesn’t necessarily mean this is all they will do forever!

Look beyond the next step

Start with the end in mind – do they have a particular job or vocation they are drawn to? What are the requirements for doing that thing? What decisions would they need to make now to be able to do that thing later in their career? Websites like Prospects are a great source of information to find out required qualifications and experience and map out career paths.

Start with what they enjoy

If they’re not clear on what the end goal looks like, start off by thinking about what they enjoy. It might be subjects at school, particular books or music they are into, whether they like to spend a lot of time with other people or by themselves… look at all aspects of life, not just academia, and draw out the things that are important to them or define them.

For those wanting to explore with a bit more structure, using a free career planner tool might also help open up ideas they would not have previously considered. Answering a series of questions focused on first steps, skills, motivations and desires, the planner generates a wide array of possible jobs and presents information for them to explore further, such as typical salaries, role requirements and other types of roles this can lead into.

Use technology to help fill the gaps

You may have heard about Chat GPT in the news lately, but did you know it can help with your career exploration and decision-making? Chat GPT uses Artificial Intelligence technology that allows you to have human-like conversations with a software programme. If you have identified some areas of interest but are struggling with mapping these onto next steps or roles, try asking Chat GPT. For example, I asked: What could be a good career path if I enjoy working with people, am organised, and like reading? Within a few seconds Chat GPT gave me five contrasting suggestions of the type of work I might be interested in, along with a short description of each role. Using this as a discussion point to do further research can be really useful, particularly if you are feeling stuck.

Help them see their potential

It can be difficult for any of us to really pinpoint our own potential, strengths, or abilities – and even more so coming out of the structure of school-life. Try to encourage a growth mindset and help them see that this is a time for exploration and discovery, not limiting themselves to what feels easiest or most obvious. Showing them evidence of where they have developed skills can also really help – for example, how they developed team work skills by working on a group project, presentation skills through class assignments, or conflict resolution amongst their peers. Pointing out what might seem obvious to us with a different perspective can help to highlight what they do bring and how we’re all different with the skills and abilities we have, are good at, and enjoy.

 Consider multiple ways to meet your end goal

You might find there are a couple of things they are really passionate about, but they feel diametrically opposed in terms of turning that thing into a career. Think about whether those same enjoyments can be met a different way, maybe through a hobby or volunteering work. You can then pursue interests in one thing this way, whilst pursuing the other interest with more of a career focus.

Whether you are supporting a young person with some big choices alongside National Career Week, or thinking of taking your career in a different direction, I hope these tips have been useful. If you would like to find out more about our career expertise or outplacement support, please get in touch using the form below, or call us on 01491 414010.


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