Is it ever too early to start career planning?

Think high school is a fun time to hang out with friends and not have a care in the world? Well, turns out you should get it out of your system in primary school. High school is all business now, big business.

I’m being facetious but only slightly. Of course high school should still be a relatively fun and carefree time in your life, but it’s also the time to start seriously thinking about a career.

In fact, it may even be starting earlier. Which begs the question: Is it ever too early to start?

Probably. Finding that sweet spot is likely important. You wouldn’t want to burn out, lose steam, peak too soon…

Even still, the realities of today’s job market demand an alert, savvy player, not a sideline sitter. The successful career seeker has likely had his or her eye on the prize for years. If you fall asleep at the wheel, even for a second, you might find yourself having to catch up later in life.

This topic was prompted by an article I read via CAREEREALISM (a site with some great content for young people), which shared tips on how to get kids to start networking in secondary school.

Is this a bit too much? Parents reviewing emails, pushing students to join networking groups? Is this realistic? Most teens would rebel or begin to develop a real aversion to networking. Of course there are always a select few who have the drive to pursue these kinds of initiatives on their own. But they are the exception rather than the rule.

For some students, maybe a more moderate approach is better. Here are a few ideas:

  • Help them develop the social skills to interact professionally with people. Teach them social graces: make eye contact, firm handshake, good conversational skills. Remind them to put the phone or tablet down and engage with people.
  • Help them develop a career plan and show them resources to start exploring. Start slow, don’t push. If they show interest in a career related topic or current event, use it as fodder for mealtime discussion.
  • Talk shop around them. Discuss your work and that of close family, friends, and relatives. Even if they don’t appear to be paying attention, over time the content will filter through. This subtle exposure helps them learn the language of these industries.
  • Make a point to expose them to some unfamiliar careers, too. Take advantage of their captivity on family trips and outings. They can’t escape so you can take the opportunity to tour a museum or brewery or anything that would teach you all something new about a certain career or industry.
  • Encourage them to sign up for public speaking courses or other workshops to help them develop skills that meet an interest and will serve them well in the future. But if, for example, public speaking makes you nervous, whatever you do, don’t project this onto them. No need to rehash that horror story from your first school speech. It’s not helping anyone.
  • Introduce them to LinkedIn and help them build a profile. Encourage them to leverage Twitter for career development. Point out a few effective career sites to follow such as @CAREEREALISM, @myFootpath, @WetFeet_Career, @Doostang, @career_explorer, @TalentEgg
  • Model professional behaviour. There are simple things you can do to give them a head start in life. Be on time, dress professionally for work, demonstrate courtesy, fulfill your obligations to people.

For the parents who are reading this – do you have any tips and tricks to share to get your kids attuned to networking and building professional relationships at an early age? For the students – would you do any of these things? Let me know your thoughts!


Generation Jobless? Continuing the discussion…

I read a blog post recently that I haven’t been able to shake. It has occupied a permanent place in my mind and I don’t think I’ll feel satisfied until I feel that solutions are being generated and shared and the discussion reaches levels and channels capable of introducing change and action.

The post, written by career advisor David Lindskoog (The Day Job), resonated with me because I felt like the written text flowed directly from my own brain. It reflected my position exactly and the conflict that I struggle with…

which is essentially the conflict that exists in our society between the value of higher education and the needs and realities of the job market.

I’ve been asking myself…

  • Are we as a society doing enough to prepare young people for their careers?
  • Is our education system flexible enough to account for the current state of the labour market? Should it be?
  • Is there something more we can be doing to match the needs of the job market and our economy with the skills and qualifications of our young people?

My hope is that we can pool our thoughts on this and make a commitment to  continue this important conversation.

Here is the debate in a nutshell…

On the one side, you have those who argue for drastic changes in the way our educational system operates. Proponents have looked at the high unemployment rate of young people in Canada (15% of 15-29 year olds) coupled with the high rates of student debt and have decided that something is broken with the system. In other words, students who are pursuing higher education do so under the assumption that it will land them a good job, but in reality are left struggling to discover how they fit into the world of work. This of course is not true for all degrees, but is seeming to affect more and more young people. Take teachers for example. In Canada, they are competing for scarce opportunities. Yet professional schools are accepting the same numbers of applicants, or more. This gap between supply and demand is at the heart of the debate. For more on this, take a look at this CBC documentary.

On the other side, you have those who argue that a higher education is invaluable and that our system is producing quality graduates capable of filling required roles in the labour market. Proponents argue that people with a higher education will earn more over the course of their lives, will develop essential skills like critical thinking and analysis that will benefit society as a whole, and point to more specific numbers showing that the unemployment rate of recent grads (25-29 year olds) is only 6%. And over the course of history, it’s an unfortunate fact that some graduating classes are simply faced with worse economic circumstances than others and this is not likely to change any time soon. Furthermore, although it is not the role of the institution to be in the business of career planning and development, most, if not all, institutions offer career services departments to assist with students’ transition to work after graduation. It is, of course, up to the student to take advantage of this service or not. For more on this side of the argument, take a look at a rebuttal to the aforementioned documentary.

I fall somewhere in the middle of these two positions. The bottom line in my opinion is that we can always be making improvements.

As for improvements, I first want to share a couple of ideas proposed by the author of the original blog post:

  1. Employ career counsellors in high schools to address the specific career planning needs of students early in the career decision making process
  2. Make practicum or internship opportunities mandatory as part of university degrees so that students will have the opportunity to put their knowledge to the test and try out a job in their field of interest

I think these ideas are a great place to start. Placing career counsellors at the heart of it all, in a position to influence young people at a critical point in their lives, would probably greatly assist guidance counsellors who are overworked as it is. Students would get the career help they need and guidance counsellors’ time can be freed up for other important roles within the school. Another less costly alternative might be for school boards to outsource career counsellors at critical points in the students’ career planning process. Even if students meet once a year with their career counsellor, this could be an improvement, and can afford them the specific career guidance and resources they need to make informed decisions about where to go and what to do next.

Furthermore, mandatory internships also address a critical need for true exposure to a profession at an influential and pivotal point in the career decision making process. I would even argue that mandatory internships might also work well at the high school level since co-ops are already available at many schools but some students may avoid them in favour of trying to acquire the necessary credits they need to move on to their post-secondary program of choice. What I’m saying is that co-ops are not valued as much as obtaining credits (currently) and that implementation of a mandatory program at the high school level might be easier logistically if some of the infrastructure, so to speak, is already available. And if full time or even contract career counsellors are available to help set everything up for the student, then we have additional support for this solution.

I’d like to end on a positive note because I think (hope!) we’re on the brink of something big and that slowly but surely steps will be taken to address this important topic.

The newly appointed leader of the Ontario provincial government, Kathleen Wynne, has promised to employ measures to better prepare students for the labour market. Her government has pledged to

“work with educators, colleges, business and industry to expand student work placements, internships and co-op programs.”

This is a good start…at a high level. But we also need real ideas and real solutions to set the wheels in motion.

Share your ideas and help us keep this discussion going…