A discussion for parents and carers of adolescent children
By Stacy Nottle
Every parent I ever met wants their child to get the best start in life. If they feel it necessary, they will do their best to access specialist service providers such as health professionals, psychologists, social workers, personal counsellors, beauticians, coaches, trainers and academic tutors for their children. But what about career counsellors? I’m often asked by parents – should my child seek specialist career advice, or will they be able to figure it out on their own? Will advice from friends and family suffice? Can’t they just follow their own intuition?
In this blog, I share my opinions on this topic. For the sake of brevity, I will not delve into the vast amount of research that relates to the impact of career interventions on adolescents except to say that the research findings are consistent with my own experience and observations. Unquestionably, research suggests that repeated interventions are more effective than one-off interventions and that interventions facilitated by a career development expert are more effective than self-directed or computer-mediated interventions. In one study (Sikora, 2018), it was found that those who were indecisive and had no clear career plans at 15 were more likely to be still indecisive at 25. Career indecisiveness lowers the chance of completing a degree or qualification and those with poor career plans at 15 lose on average $100,000 over the ten-year period from 15 to 25.
Straight up, I will say that help-seeking behaviour of any kind should be encouraged and if well considered, will almost certainly come with benefits.
But shouldn’t my child receive career counselling at school?
During my fifteen years as a school career practitioner, I made every effort to ensure that my students and their parents and carers received bang for their buck. But with over 500 students from Years 10 to 12 in my care, I certainly felt like a limited resource. I had hardly any interaction with students prior to Year 10, even though I knew about the positive benefits of starting career education early. Upskilling other teachers to help was an option—the teachers I worked with were of the highest caliber—but adding career education to their already hectic workloads was certainly not going to model a healthy work/life balance for my students and it was going to take my time away from my students. Also, research findings emphasise that career interventions facilitated by career development experts are far more effective. Thus, for the past fifteen years, I have found myself considering the most effective way for me to use my time and energy.
I concluded that of all possible career activities that students can undertake at school such as career classes, workshops, talks, computer-assisted exploration etc., individual career counselling gave the best results when it came to career decisiveness, career preparedness and self-efficacy. The problem with the provision of individual career counselling in a school setting is that most schools simply do not have the time and resources to deliver it to everyone. Sadly, access to a school’s career service (if a school is lucky enough to be able to offer one) often becomes unfairly distributed, meaning that some students benefit, others do not.
As a member of my local Career Practitioner Network and regular participant at the QLD Chapter of the Career Development Association of Australia, I note that the school career practitioners and guidance counsellors I know are passionate, highly qualified and skilled professionals. They do a brilliant job facilitating the many aspects of their role. Most, however, simply do not have time to sit with each individual student for extended periods of time and we are naïve to expect that they do. Just as we often need to go outside the school setting to seek individualized support for our children with their physical and mental well-being, their academic development and so forth, I believe that most adolescents gain enormous benefit from seeing a private career practitioner and I highly recommend it.
Some of the young adults I see (in the 18 to 24 age range) have not received individualized career counselling at school and it shows - they are confused as to why their life has run off the rails and they have limited skills on how to reengage. It is always very clear to me when I see a young adult who has experienced career intervention in adolescence. They are always miles ahead when it comes to having the confidence and skills to make decisions and manage change.
Why is individual career counselling so effective?
It is targeted. It puts the student in a position of ownership and control over their life and provides them with a safe space to explore. It helps them to order their often-tangled thoughts about themselves and their career ideas into clear, actionable goals. At the end of individual career counselling sessions with my students, the most common feedback I received was, ‘That was really good, miss.’ Many of them were surprised by how much they enjoyed the session and they left feeling optimistic and clearer about themselves and their future.
Check your expectations.
A few years ago, the dad of an ex-student approached me. He told me that his son had dropped out of his initial university program and enrolled to study something entirely different, and he (the dad) was angry because of the lost time and money. Also, he felt that when a young person ‘fails’ like this, their school career practitioner should be made accountable. I appreciated this parent’s honest feedback and took the opportunity to discuss a different perspective with him.
Firstly, I suggested that his son had perhaps not ‘failed’. To the contrary, he had shown tremendous courage and career competence in the way he had navigated the first real speedbump life put in his way, and by doing so, he ensured he would be studying and working in a field that brought him joy. Secondly, I explained that career development is a developmental process. When his son was at school, he was probably not ready to make the best choices for himself—instead, he chose a path he felt would win approval from others (most likely from his parents). As he matured, he was more able to recognise that he was heading in a direction that didn’t resonate with his soul, he was able to accept that change is a normal part of life, and by getting himself out of a course that didn’t fit him, his confidence to manage his own life would have improved considerably.
When I work with a young person who has not experienced career intervention as an adolescent, they rarely (never) show this kind of career competence.
In the Time of COVID
Since COVID became a thing, there has been much talk about the tremendous increase in young people seeking mental health support. I wonder how many others are struggling in silence because they do not see themselves as having a mental health problem. I recently worked with a young man from interstate (via Zoom) who had finished school at the end of 2019 and had not yet had a job (in June 2021)—in fact, he had barely left his bedroom—but he did not identify himself as having a mental health problem. He told me that while he really did want to get a job, the reason he hadn’t was because of COVID. He was well spoken, articulate, well organized, had his own car and a supportive family, and he was miserable. Thank goodness his parents decided to get him some career guidance. (This young man also happened to tell me that he never received career guidance while at school.)
When talking to my Year 12 students at the end of 2020, I noticed that a number seemed ‘stuck’ - their plans for after school had been cancelled or postponed due to COVID, and they seemed unable to regroup and re-plan. Their attitude was—why bother making plans when they will most likely not work out anyway? The uncertainty in the world had scared them out of doing anything. My strategy was to assist them to come up with a Plan A, B, C and D. I pointed out to them that if they only had one plan and it didn’t come off, they had a long way to fall and it would most likely hurt when they hit the ground; however, if they had a number of ideas, and one fell over, they only needed to drop down to the next. Not so painful. The most exciting outcome from these conversations was that my students got to explore their career ideas in much greater depth.
My next strategy was to help them come up with one small action they could achieve now—in the next day or week—and I found that once these ‘stuck’ youngsters had successfully carried out an action, any action, they quickly regained their momentum and confidence. To my knowledge, none of them have spent the past eight months in their bedrooms waiting for COVID to pass.
What if you can’t afford to pay?
For many parents, whether to take your child to see a career counsellor is a commercial decision. It costs money. I don’t have any quick solution to this dilemma but will share my thoughts. Many professionals, including career practitioners, do set aside time for pro bono work. In the case of career practitioners, this is often provided through organisations such as the Career Development Association of Australia, and you will find them at career fairs and the like. However, these pro bono opportunities can be limited. As I have only officially commenced my private consultancy a week ago, I am not yet able to provide a regular pro bono service, however I am in discussion with a local community group on how I might be able to assist them. Over the years, I have found that doing pro bono work to be as beneficial to myself and my practice as it is to the client.
In the past weeks, I have been approached by two separate parents (one in Queensland and one in Western Australia) requesting appointments for their children—both have assured me that my fee will be paid for by the NDIS. I have also been approached by a regional community group who have asked if I would travel to their town on a regular basis to provide career counselling to some of their young people—my travel, accommodation and fees would be funded by ‘the mines’. It is early days for me, and I will need to investigate these opportunities further; however, my point is that national and local businesses, and government support agencies, are often more than willing to contribute funds to assist young people. The first step is to recognize that there are real and significant benefits to young people having access to the services of a career counsellor. Secondly, I suggest you speak up and ask for this service to be made available in your community.
Back to my original question – Should I pay for my child to see a career counsellor?
If you are wanting your children to make a firm decision on what job they will do for the rest of their lives, and to then follow this path happily from school to retirement, you may well be disappointed with the service you receive. Life is too wonderfully complex to allow such linear behaviour from most of us.
If you are wanting to change your child’s unique and special nature into something it’s not, again, you will likely be disappointed. If your child is not diligent and studious by nature, career counselling is unlikely to get them to start hitting the books for hours every night (although there is research that suggests it does help). To those parents secretly hoping for a personality implant for their child, I say, ‘Love the one you’ve got. He or she is incredible and worthy just the way they are.’
But I am being flippant. No parent I ever met has expected me to find their child a ‘perfect match’ or help them change their personality. Not really. What they do want is for their child to have the opportunity to –
- Better know and understand herself or himself – this may include personality tests, aptitude tests, psychometric analysis, career interest inventories (I use Career Avenues),
- Examine his or her mindset, attitudes, and values,
- Cultivate optimism and hope about her or his future,
- Better understand his or her world,
- Clarify her or his career vision and goals,
- Understand his or her options and know what opportunities are available to him or her,
- Talk about her or his career ideas, feelings, and concerns,
- Receive honest, unbiased insights in a safe and confidential setting,
- Develop the skills to manage career transitions and to self-market with confidence,
- Get help to craft his or her own unique career strategy,
- Get help with job search and education admission documents,
- Access appropriate resources.
I hope this has given you a deeper understanding of the benefits of individual career counselling for adolescents. I recommend you consider it. I also recommend that you lobby for this service to be available for all adolescents. While I have loved working with adolescents for the past forty years (fifteen as a career practitioner), I have also loved meeting and working with parents. So often, parents have said to me, ‘I wish I had this when I was at school.’ And so, I will conclude by saying that career development is a lifelong process. It is appropriate for everyone, from school students planning for the future right through to retirees. (One of my professional colleagues has an 84-year-old client.)
For more information about me, please visit my website – www.stacynottle.com.au