The role of Parents in their child’s career choices

Ensuring your children are set up for a successful career, future financial security and a good quality of life is a pressing challenge for every parent. As parents, your children will look to you for advice and guidance even if they don’t like to admit it!

Parents have a key role to play in the decision-making and the general career path your children choose to pursue; but how involved should you be in this decision-making process? Should you adopt a hands-on role? What is the best advice you can give your child at this point?

It can be difficult to give your child good careers advice and part of this is down to the changing nature and dynamics of the job market. Our children are likely to have less security but arguably more choice (with short-term and zero-hours contracts), contribute to an economy that has changed from industry-based to services-based in recent decades, and meet the challenges of the impact of technology.

Parents have adopted beliefs about success, how to be successful and what constitutes a ‘good job’ or ‘ideal life’. Anything we feed back to our children is based on these beliefs and our own experiences. Many of us make the mistake of trying to shield our children from the mistakes that we made – whether knowingly or unknowingly. While we can guide them away from some of the pitfalls we encountered, they’ll inevitably make mistakes and hiccups along the journey – but these hiccups are vital for their personal growth.

The best thing you can instil is a mature and sensible mind-set, giving your children the tools to make their own informed decisions.

How you can influence your child:

  • Having a strong, mature parent-child relationship.
  • Set a good example (socially, personally and professionally) for your child.
  • The attitudes, views and values you adopt and express.
  • The expectations you set for your children’s education, career and life.
  • The opportunities you provide for your children to learn and develop.

In terms of career choice, you should:

  • Aid, but not dictate, the decision-making process.
  • Support your child’s decisions.
  • Give your children freedom and time to discover their skills.
  • Provide motivation to develop and achieve.
  • Provide encouragement to pursue interests and ambitions.
  • Try to instil a responsible attitude and mature outlook.
  • Instil an attitude of self-belief by being positive and never critical – as a parent your words will have the biggest effect on your child.

What should you bear in mind when helping your child with education choices?

The decisions we make in our early life (e.g what school we go to, the subjects we chose to study, the decision to go to university/college, the courses we choose) can impact our career path. If this decision is heavily swayed by parental preference, the child may end up following a vocation that, deep down, they perhaps aren’t interested in. At the same time, without practical guidance and support when pursuing interests from parents, poor choices can be made.

Everyone has a unique set of skills and aptitudes. Each child is individual in their own way, and so may possess different skills and abilities to their parents. With this in mind, adopting a similar career role to either parent may not be the right course of action.

We all take time to ‘find our feet’. Parents will often say things such as “pick a course you think you’ll like” or “why don’t you apply for this job”. Though it may seem they’re doing the right thing in terms of steering their children in the right direction, parents also need to understand that we all need space and time to discover what we truly want to pursue. University, for example, isn’t for everyone – and engaging in relevant work experience and/or undertaking an apprenticeship can be just as valuable in finding a suitable vocation in which you can thrive.

The trick here is to educate children that life is about self-discovery and new skills and talents are developed. How many of us are in careers we thought we would be in when we were 18? We can only make decisions based on what we know about ourselves at the time, take the pressure off of them by letting them know it’s okay that they aren’t sure what they want to do yet but the important thing is to be proactive in finding their way.

Here are a few hints and tips for parents to help guide your child in considering a career.

Does what lies beyond your own experience have more relevance for your child?

Of course our children take after us and are influenced by us, but they are shaped by many factors and may have completely independent tastes and abilities. There’s no point nudging a child towards your career of accounting if their weakest subject is maths, and there may be little point trying to persuade them into the family dog-grooming business if their passion is physics. It will be obvious which subjects most stimulate your child’s mind, and talking to them about considering how they might apply their knowledge to future careers is a great way to help them connect their school work to their potential as an adult. If you have a family friend, colleague or relative whose career is more closely aligned with your child’s strengths, ask them to chat to your child about it. Most people are more than happy to help.

Work experience pays off.

Gaining a bit of insight into a chosen field will prove fantastic learning for your child. They may spend a week in a work environment and come away fired up with enthusiasm, with concrete plans about their future career. They may even realise it’s not for them after all and completely change their mind. In truth, it’s more likely to fall somewhere in between. If your child is at least sixteen, finding a work placement should be possible and many companies are happy to accommodate. Do you have a friend or contact in a relevant industry who can mentor them, or put in a good word? Perhaps the school’s PTA can help out here. After all, most parent groups benefit from volunteers from a wide range of backgrounds, and the more parents who can be encouraged to respond to a ‘shout out’ the better. A careers event leading to work experience for children at school would hugely benefit many children, especially those whose parents may not have as wide or as influential a list of contacts to ask for help. Also, it doesn’t hurt to think big. If your child is keen to explore journalism, see if they are willing to apply to national newspapers as well as the local journal. Rejection is hard, but a reality of the workplace. As long as you have a backup plan and they don’t have their heart set on one place, it will be a constructive experience. Perhaps you can help them to research places they might like to approach and draw up a shortlist of potential options? If they’ve never applied before, guiding them to researching what they need to do to make a good approach will give them valuable life lessons.

We do operate a work experience programme in year 10 to help pupils gain a solid and valuable understanding of the world or work.

Keep an open mind on the options.

Parental expectations vary, but many parents expect that their child will follow a particular route. For the more academic child, this may be from A-levels to a university degree, especially if an older sibling has already taken this path. But this may not be in the best interests of every child, and there is an increasing number of options available for post-16 study. Following a drive in recent years to expand apprenticeships, the government is now also set to roll out the first T levels, the new technical qualifications that will offer young people vocational training as an alternative to A-levels, which will be phased in from 2020. These technical vocations are popular and can be very lucrative.

Work readiness requires more than academic success.

Soft skills or life skills are also essential to nurture in order to prepare your child for the workplace. Employees look for many factors in potential recruits. Could a week of work experience leave a lasting positive impression and a door ajar? It will if your child has self-confidence, but is still willing to learn from those more experienced; is assertive but self-reflective about their own limitations and weaknesses; can collaborate and negotiate whilst standing their ground when they need to; can find new ways of problem-solving without insisting that other ways are wrong; can be flexible and adaptable while maintaining a solid work ethic and integrity; can communicate well without talking too much (or too little) to colleagues. Skills to survive and thrive in the workplace vary from job to job, but many of the basics remain the same, and can be learned.

Consider other options.

So you’ve offered your child your own knowledge and experience, and discussed their strengths and potential with them, and what their options are for higher education and careers. Maybe you’ve persuaded friends or colleagues to talk to them about their jobs, and perhaps work experience has been sought and agreed. But there are other opportunities to help narrow down options. Your school/local college is likely to have a careers fair where your child can talk to representatives across businesses, industries and sectors. You never know what ideas may be generated! Don’t forget online resources such as the National Careers Service and the Prince’s Trust.

It’s not final – people change careers.

If your child is scared by the idea of making a “life-sentence” decision, then reassure them that people change careers all the time, and in greater numbers than ever before. Perhaps they think their teachers have always been teachers, even though many of them have entered the profession after years of experience elsewhere, or may leave the profession in future. It’s true that changing careers isn’t always easy. It often requires retraining, which, if you’re holding down a job, may mean night school, or it may require a few years of volunteering during evenings and weekends, but there are sometimes government grants and initiatives to help people into making the career change that is right for them. Most of our MPs enjoyed other careers before entering politics. The old days of a “job for life” are diminishing, and people apply their skill sets in a variety of positions throughout their working life. If your child speaks to somebody older than fifty, they are likely to hear about a career journey that has taken many twists and turns, not all of them expected!