Career pathways aren’t always built in a straight line – especially by senior secondary-school students who are making choices to start on the road to their future.
While some year 11 and 12 students have an clear idea of what they want to do, others can have a tougher time deciding.
Professor Johanna Wyn from The University of Melbourne’s graduate school of education is an expert in young people’s transitions to work and further education.
She’s also director of the Youth Research Centre, and says it’s not unusual for students to have no clear picture of their future career while at school. But there are things they can consider while making their decisions.
“There are two things students really need to consider: What are they good at and what do they enjoy doing?” Johanna says.
“There’s no point in going on to further study or a career if they don’t like what they’re doing.
“They should also consider whether they are choosing an area of work that’s likely to be offered [into the future].”
Johanna says young people need to think about future-proofing their job prospects by choosing a career in an area that’s likely to be relevant for some years to come. This includes jobs in fields such as digital media and technology.
Similar recommendations are also made by the Foundation for Young Australians (fya.org.au), which has been researching future jobs.
FYA identified seven clusters of new jobs in its New Work Mindset report, including in the technology, artisan (working with your hands) and caring fields.
These jobs require “portable and adaptable” job skills, including strong interpersonal skills, technical know-how and enterprise (entrepreneurial) skills – something secondary schools in Melbourne are working with students to build and grow before they move on to further education.
Schools help students to build skills and make career choices, but parents also have an important role, Johanna says (although they must also be mindful that the decision should ultimately be made by their child).
“Parents really need to be aware of what their children are good at and encourage them to pursue those interests, rather than choosing a career because it sounds good for them to tell people what their children are studying,” she says.
Johanna says this can lead to young people being unhappy and changing their choice of degree or career.
The Australian Department of Education reported that almost 13,000 students changed courses or institutions in 2014. That figure has remained steady for more than a decade.
Johanna says parents should not be overly concerned if their children change their minds about their study and careers.
“It’s a natural process of discovering what [students] are good at and what they’re not,” she says. “There’s no harm in mixing it around.”
For those who have a clear idea of what they want to do after they finish school, Johanna says the way forward can be made easier with the right planning and advice.
“Find out what you need to study to get into your particular course, and many schools have great job counsellors and teachers who know what’s going on in those courses, so talk to them,” she says.
Johanna also recommends students talk to people who might have the same or a similar career to their goal – and even those who work in recruitment – to see what it takes to get such jobs.
Those who are not so sure what they want their future to be should take the time to consider their options.
“Take time out – travel, go and earn some money working and put some time between you and study and think about it in a year’s time,” Johanna says.
She adds that parents shouldn’t worry too much if their child’s future career path is not immediately clear.
“I would say it’s increasingly common to not have a clear pathway,” she says. “It takes quite a while to decide and there are many other forms of study they can do to qualify for a career.
“There are a lot of [non-university] courses in areas like digital tech and communication, which will give them an edge and won’t close doors and give them an opportunity to keep studying,” she says.