You can’t know which career you want unless you know about a lot of careers. You can’t have a great career unless you know what one looks like. This is why it is so important for children to be introduced to careers and career concepts as early as possible. This doesn’t mean sitting them down and lecturing them about various careers. Rather it means being aware of their interests and desires, finding the “teachable” career moments that happen every day and making the most of them. Help your child find a career that suits them — a career that they will enjoy — a career they deserve.
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With a 15 year old boy in the house, talk of college and career is becoming more frequent and I find it is helping me think more deeply about how a career is built these days. One of the first issues I noticed is that everyone needs to be thinking about their career long before they leave high school. In some cases, they might even need to be investigating careers more deeply when they are in Junior High School (ages 10-13, here in the US). If a child is thinking about a specific career in the future, they will need to plan their high school education accordingly. Taking the right courses allows them to explore a career more deeply and discover if it is truly the career for them. Additionally, the right classes can pave the way to move ahead with the career once they graduate.
This is not to say that any child needs to choose a career now. I don’t think anyone can really decide what they want to do with their life when they are 13 years old. Rather, this is a time for investigation and experimentation with a variety of careers. This is a time to play career “dress up” if you will and try to imagine what a particular career might be like. As an example, I will show you some of the ways my son and I have been approaching career investigation.
First, look for child’s innate interests. My son liked to build with Lego and other projects, so at one time he thought he might like to be an engineer. Of course, he had little understanding of what that meant, so when the opportunity arose, I would talk about what engineers and architects did in their work. It helped that we have 2 close friends who are architects and engineers, so I had a ready resource to turn to for more information. Looking for the teachable moment, my son would join us in conversations about what work they were doing and what their day-to-day career was like. At this stage, it is all about recognizing what is of interest to your child and how you can help them to learn more about that interest.
As my son grew older he got into computer gaming to a great degree, as many kids do. For him, though, it also pointed the way to another possible career. As part of this interest he selected a high school that had a tech specialization program, including classes in 2D and 3D game design as well as robotics. This, along with his own gaming, started to show him more about the gaming industry and the possible careers that might be found there. He quickly discovered that a career in gaming didn’t necessarily mean programming, although that is one aspect. There are many other related careers including art design, writing, promotion, marketing, sales, project management and more.
To further his investigation into a gaming career I started to do something that my wife does with her writing students — thinking critically about the games he was playing. Now, when we watch a game playthrough on YouTube, a professional tournament match in StarCraft (yes, there are many professional gamers and tournaments out there) or his own game play, I make a point of asking him questions. “Why do you think they made that choice for the art design? How would you have designed it? Do the game mechanics work well or are they clunky? Do they enhance the gameplay or hinder it? If you were commentating for this tournament, how would you make it better? What are they doing right or wrong? What makes this game so good?”
I want my son to dive deep into the gaming world, if that is where is career aspirations lie, so that he enters that world — or any career world — with open eyes and a deep, clear idea of the pros and cons. The truth is, while it may seem frivolous to some, the gaming industry is a huge, diverse industry with many opportunities in a wide variety of work areas. I think there are a lot of opportunities there, should he decide to pursue it. The best thing, though, is that because of the Internet today, he can investigate the industry in great detail long before he has to commit to a career there. He can easily talk with people working in the industry already and gain a clear picture of what may be possible.
Is your child expressing an interest in a particular career or a particular type of work? If so, follow those interests wherever they might lead. Help them to learn as much about that work as possible so that when the time comes to make a decision, they can do it secure in the knowledge that they understand what that career entails. In this way, we can lead every child to not only the career they deserve, but also a career they might even love.