Helping Kids Decide on Careers
by Terence P Ward
With changes and challenges in the economic, environmental, and technological realms, it’s becoming more and more important that young people understand how to think about preparing for a career. Having a sense of future career plans helps with decisions from course selection during high school to the kinds of further education that might be needed. These are big questions being placed on younger and younger shoulders, starting with the proverbial, “What do I want to be when I grow up?”
Luckily for our kids, there are people who know how to help with this process, and two of those experts agreed to share their perspective with Livelihood. Ashley Knox is the founder and director of Kingston-based Go Beyond Greatness Inc., and Nicole Fenichel-Hewitt is the executive director of Spark Media Project in Poughkeepsie.
“Most people don’t know what they want to be when they grow up,” said Knox. “It’s the life experiences, influential role models,
and the educational training that usually inspire a young person to go into specific career field.”
Fenichel-Hewitt agreed. “Choosing a career is a big deal. It determines how we spend most of our waking hours. It is very exciting and very daunting for young people to make career choices.”
Guiding young people through those daunting choices is a process of exposing them to different career paths, because they can’t always see a connection between learning future career paths. “I realized I was great in physics in high school, but no one ever talked to me about what careers could be in my future in that field,” said Fenichel-Hewitt. “It became something that seemed too ambiguous for a career.”
“It’s exposure, practice and passion that we need to nurture as educators,” she went on. “Young people need to try things out. At Spark Media Project, we introduce youth to careers in the field of media. Giving young people a chance to dabble in many types of jobs, and pair their experience and education with their passion can really help expand their ideas about what they want to do with their life.”
Knox said that by exposing kids to different disciplines, they often find a place where passion and skill overlap. “When young people are given the opportunity to bring out their creativity or what I call ‘their greatness’ in a way that is transformative to people and community, they are one step closer to a better understanding of who they are and how they are important contributors to the society at large. Many times this type of social reward has a great impact on a young person’s self-confidence and motivation towards what they would like to do career-wise in the future.”
Rather than creating a high-pressure situation by expecting to answer the “big question” of who they want to be as an adult, Knox said that she prefers to help the child cultivate what lies within. “I think it’s more important to teach youth how to develop a strong sense of self where they have deep connection with who they are, what makes them happy, and what makes them feel valued,” she said. “I believe the education of self and recognizing our personal value in the world are key to discovering what we could be when we grow up.”
“I think that motivation is intrinsic, but it needs to be sparked and then nurtured,” said Fenichel-Hewitt. “The career path is most organic when motivation is spurred by a passion that was visible at a young age. But nurturing that passion will create the linkages young people need to see in order to understand how their passion can become a career.”
How to help a young person plug in to a career that will be both financially and personally satisfying might be as simple as helping them create a map towards their dreams, rather than building roadblocks along the way. “Most adults I know who were able to connect their young passions with a successful career believed in themselves and did not negotiate the belief when other people doubted them,” Knox said. “I noticed they weren’t afraid of imagination—what I would call a level-headed dreamer. I also observed they had a particular support circle, an older generation that was supportive of their passion that acted as a personal help desk, providing them with resources, new connections, apprenticeships, and opportunities to display their passion publicly.”
“The more we get young people out into the world, seeing the types of careers that keep our world turning and being exposed to the thousands of job possibilities that exist for them, the more we’ll be creating a passionate, motivated workforce of tomorrow,” said Fenichel-Hewitt.