Career talk is important from a very early age
Children under 14 need systematic career guidance but almost never get it, writes Jim Bright.
OPINION: When did you first start thinking about what you wanted to do with your life?
About half-past three on Friday afternoon seems to be a popular time, with the answer being anything but what I am doing now figuring highly.
We put off making career decisions, or even thinking much about out careers for too long.
Often we don’t get serious thinking about what we really want to do until what we are doing turns out not to be the answer.
Our tendency to put off considerations of career are reflected in our attitudes to young people and their career ideas.
A view has taken hold, quite erroneously, that children do not think in any logical or serious way about their futures until they are well into adolescence or later.
The consequence of this has been, in the main, to refrain from offering any kind of systematic career education or counselling to children under the age of about 14. This is misguided, and may have profound impacts.
While nobody should expect all young children to be able to articulate a clear or reasoned sense of what they want to do when they grow up, we should be providing them with the appropriate education and support to explore these issues from an early age.
The evidence is increasingly indicating that even very young children, as young as kindergarten age, are able to articulate coherent ideas of what occupation they’d like to enter.
Indeed, there is evidence that these ambitions are not randomly plucked because in many cases, their second choice, should their first not be available, is conceptually related to their initial choice. In other words, even very young children have begun to develop mental maps about the world of work and how jobs relate to each other.
Unfortunately, the evidence also suggests that before they enter high school, children are ruling out many options on the basis of gender stereotyping.
Years before they are likely to have concepts such as occupational stereotyping challenged in a classroom, they have already begun to narrow down their vocational options due to these stereotypes.
A recent study by Jenny Gore and her colleagues from Newcastle University found that gender was a better predictor of young children’s career interests than socioeconomic status or geography.
Trying to remove these self or societal limiting blinkers later on is no easy task. Despite years of trying to achieve better gender balances in certain occupations, the disparities stubbornly refuse to go away. Maybe some earlier career education intervention would be a start.
Peter Ustinov, the actor, remarked on his 75th birthday, ‘‘I really must decide what to do with my life!’’ – a quote I find strangely reassuring.
While we may never find the answer to how best to spend our lives, we must encourage young people to start asking the right sorts of questions from a much earlier age.
Jim Bright is a professor of career education at Australian Catholic University and owns Bright and Associates, a career management consultancy.