Help your teen make the right career choice

If you’re a parent agonising over how you can help your son or daughter decide what to do upon completing school, you can take some consolation from the fact that you are not alone. In fact, this topic is the subject of a new book – ‘Career Coach’ – that is, as the tagline says, “a step-by-step guide to help your teen find their life’s purpose.” It also includes interviews with 13 successful people, including such as garden designer Diarmuid Gavin and chef and restaurant owner Neven Maguire, who share their own career insights.

Author Dearbhla Kelly has worked in education training and guidance since 1991 and is fascinated by the subject.

“In school, I didn’t know what I wanted to do. At 25, a few of my friends and I became very interested in the quest for purpose and our place in the world of work. I taught in Japan for most of my twenties, and girls in the school came to me for interview training skills and general career advice,” she says.

“I really enjoyed the whole area, so when I returned home from Japan, I threw myself into career guidance studies in UCD. Now, I eat, drink and sleep it – I find it really gratifying when people discover what they want to do.”

Based on her own personal and professional experience, Kelly has created a methodology to help parents guide their children through the daunting career maze. Studies have found that almost 80 per cent of students go to their parents for advice on career choice and ‘Career Coach’ recognises the immense influence that parents have in this area.

“Helping your teen discover their calling or vocation in life requires many conversations and these conversations aren’t always straightforward. One day your teen wants to study medicine and the next day she wants to be a deep-sea diver! However, with an 11 per cent drop out rate from university programmes, and up to 24 per cent from IT courses, it’s worth the time and effort and saves money in the long run.” says Dearbhla.

So, what practical steps does she recommend for parents?

“Firstly, take the panic out of the situation. Take the pressure away.” She views the teenage years as sufficiently difficult without - albeit well-meaning - parents heaping pressure on their children.

“Keep the doors of communication open. Keep talking to your children. Take the ‘side-door’ approach. Discuss careers with them when out for a walk, doing an activity or driving. Ask them open-ended questions about their experiences, about what they might like and affirm them. Tell them, ‘you have the ability and potential to make a success of yourself.’”

Navigating the long list of third-level courses and apprenticeships now available can prove dizzying for parents. Factor in the changing economic times and it’s easy to see why career decisions are challenging for parents and teenagers. Dearbhla advises starting with the teenager, not the course.

“If somebody comes to me for career development and says, ‘I see all the jobs are in IT’, but they haven’t a blind bit of interest in technology, I know they won’t be happy in that area. People need to play to their strengths and what suits them in order to be happy in their career.”

“Parents need to start with the teenager themselves. Draw attention to their strengths and help them to get to know themselves better. The teenage years are a period of discovery. Shine a light on what comes naturally to them – it will lead to greater self-awareness,” she says.t

“Look at what flows from them. What motivates them, makes them curious? What are they tuned into – be it school subjects, hobbies, or something on the Internet? Are they motivated by a purpose to serve or to protect the environment for example?”

“It’s difficult for some young people to make a connection between what they are passionate about and their future career, however, people don’t always necessarily plan their careers out in full - they make decisions based on what they are driven by, and that leads to opportunity. One thing leads to another, a kind of planned happenstance. If you follow an area that interests you, in which you feel most alive and if you have the right attitude, you can create opportunities for yourself.”

‘Career Coach’ provides a series of practical steps for parents while also acknowledging that it can be difficult to communicate and get responses from teenagers. Tips for communicating include: be present when you are present; offer choices, not ultimatums; listen with your eyes, ears, heart and undivided attention; ask open questions; enhance your teen’s confidence; don’t blame or accuse; don’t use threats; don’t use sarcasm; and be careful with comparisons.

Dearbhla urges parents to be patient, “Some people would like instantaneous answers, but trying to uncover what you want to do can be a lot of work. It can involve students work-shadowing, exploring various careers, and reflecting on what they are learning about.”

The ever-changing landscape of the ‘world of work’ can look daunting to parents, particularly if they come from the traditional ‘permanent and pensionable’ school of employment. “Permanent and pensionable is not as prevalent as it was. We are in an era of contract employment and that can be a worry for parents. Young people may not be aware of the difference, but parents may be challenged by it,” she explains.

“Careers are not as linear as they were. Technology is changing the world rapidly too, and it can be hard to keep abreast of it. Parents and students need to realise that lifelong learning and continuous improvement are becoming the norm. People must be flexible and resilient. We have to become accustomed to these concepts, although it’s hard for some parents to get their heads around this.”

There is one piece of advice, however, that Dearbhla has for all teenagers: do Transition Year.

“Transition Year encourages personal growth and maturity. The more young people say ‘yes’ to things, the more they step outside of their comfort zones and the more self-aware they become. If you’re just staying in on the laptop or watching TV, you’re not going to stretch and develop yourself. The more you do, the more aware of your strengths you become. Transition Year can be powerful for this.”

‘Career Coach’ is an excellent guide for parents who want to help their teenagers achieve their dreams. It also contains a comprehensive appendix packed with useful websites and information on scholarships, applications and disability supports.

Career Coach: A Step-by-step Guide to Help Your Teen Find their Life’s Purpose, by Dearbhla Kelly, is published by Gill & McMillan, €14.99. More: www.DearbhlaKelly.com Liam Horan is Managing Director of SliiNuaCareers.com, one of Ireland’s leading career training agencies. He is about to launch a new technology and process that will help parents match their teenage sons and daughters to their ideal careers.

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