There's increasing focus by governments and taskforces including The World Economic Forum, The FYA, CSIRO and OECD among many others on what 21st Century careers will really look like and how we can prepare the next generation for the exponential change they will live with. The estimations and outlooks vary from fairly terrifying to cautiously optimistic. At one extreme we’re seeing predictions that more than half of current roles won't exist in 5 years and we will need an entirely new economic model to move money around. On the more optimistic side, there’s acknowledgement that technological advancements will shrink or eliminate a large % of current occupations but it will also create new roles and opportunities for humans to contribute to society in ways which are more meaningful and personal to them.
What we DO know is:
1) Future generations will have to navigate their careers through more complexity and change than ever before, driven by demographic change and exponential technological advancement.
2) Ongoing learning throughout your life will become the default in order to stay relevant as the external world changes faster and faster.
3) Young people will have more responsibility for self managing their career as corporations prioritise commercial flexibility over provision of employment and security.
While children are facing down a lifetime of decisions and continual course adjustments, current Career Development remains largely unchanged from 50 years ago, tactically supporting a decision about the very next step as if that was it. That's what you'll be. Job for life. While young people obviously do need to take a step forward it’s very unlikely that this is going to set them on a linear, unchanging path for their career. Life happens. People change. (1) And with industries shape shifting like they're in an X-Men movie, the chasm between what current Career Development models prepare kids for and the reality they'll face is about to get very, very real. How do we stop them coming unstuck at the very next twist or turn in life?
We need to shift our approach to young people's Career Development from tactical support for a couple of decisions to a strategic and sustainable solution for the whole lifespan. A shift from information-heavy decisions to inspiration-based iterations. Teaching kids the skills to explore, design and manage their life ongoing. They need to have these skills nailed before those first decisions loom.
So when should we teach them these skills?
This isn't a new question that we don't know the answer to. The childhood years are widely recognised by academics as critical for acquiring the exploratory and adaptive skills that kids will need to make informed choices and be prepared for a lifetime of inevitable and ongoing change. (2) From a policy perspective too, in Australia, New Zealand, Canada and the UK we have almost identical Blueprints for Career Development based on a compelling body of evidence which state that the primary years are vital for laying the foundations for a lifetime of learning. (3) It just doesn't make it into practice given the competing priorities for curriculum time. And it's always been the school's job, right?
Developmentally, in early - mid childhood we start to form hypotheses on the big questions of who I am and what do I want my life to be like. We see that from as early as 3 years old, children are beginning to narrate self concepts and try them out in role play, playing with future selves and beginning to narrate themes that will be reimagined over time and expressed as clear self concepts. (4) Then as early as age 7 and normally by the age of 11 children are reflecting realistically and making decisions about the external world of work and what will suit them. But - and it's a huge but - these decisions are often based on narrow, simplistic information and stereotyped perceptions. (5), These come out as unbelievably conclusive statements such as 'I'm not creative', 'robots are for boys'.
The good news is that getting in there before these beliefs solidify can positively counter this stereotyped, gender-based elimination stage. (6)
From a more practical point of view, the answer is simple. It needs to happen before the first major decision. Is that when they have to give up certain subjects in high school? Choosing the right high school? Selecting extra curriculur activities that might allow them to explore interests or passions more deeply? Much comes down to parents perspective on this but both the scientific evidence and the practical timing suggest that high school, and certainly the end of high school, is way too late.
So we know the skills we need to teach them and when it needs to happen.
It's vital from the research that creative career thinking, aspiration and navigation skills are embedded at this early stage in order that decisions are guided by their unique self concept and plan for their life rather than societal norms. So ideally we need to get in there, before age 11, grab them by the imagination and ensure that:
Their ideas and explorations aren’t narrowed based on gender or social stereotypes
They recognise moments of inspiration and use them to explore further and to learn curiously inside and outside of school
They start to build a positive future vision of themselves as a ‘running hypothesis’ for their life and adapt their ideas and plans as they go based on their experiences.
We're currently in the beta phase of testing a solution that would deliver these outcomes for children, using parents and schools as valuable collaborators. Imagine what the emerging workforce could do if all children were inspired to look deep into their own centre, to architect and navigate for themselves, their unique path? We'd love to hear your thoughts.
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1.Bright, J. (2008). Shift Happens. Keynote Presentation to the Australian Association of Career Counsellors Annual Conference, Hobart, March 2008. Retrieved from http://jobjuggler.net/ShiftHappens.pdf
2. Magnuson, C. S., & Starr, M. F. (2000). How early is too early to begin life career planning? The importance of the elementary school years. Journal of Career Development, 27(2), 89–101;
Hiebert, B. (2010). Comprehensive guidance and counseling in the schools: Career-life planning for all. Retrieved from http://homepages.ucalgary.ca/~hiebert/research/files/Hiebert-Portugal-2010-Paper.pdf ; Hartung, P. J. (2015). Life Design in Childhood: Antecedents and Advancement. In L. Nota & J. Rossier (Eds.), Handbook of Life Design (Chapter 7). Boston, MA: Hogrefe. ; Watson, M., Nota, L., & McMahon, M. (2015a). Child career development: Present and future trends. International Journal for Educational and Vocational Guidance, 15(2), 95–97
3. MCEECDYA, (2010). The Australian Blueprint for Career Development, prepared by Miles Morgan Australia, Commonwealth of Australia, Canberra. Available at: www.blueprint.edu.au
4. Savickas & McAdams cited in Hartung, P. J. (2015). Life Design in Childhood: Antecedents and Advancement. In L. Nota & J. Rossier (Eds.), Handbook of Life Design (Chapter 7). Boston, MA
5. Hartung, P. J., Porfeli, E. J., & Vondracek, F. W. (2005). Child vocational development: A review and reconsideration. Journal of Vocational Behavior, 66(3), 385–419.
6. Gottfredson, L. S. (2002). Gottfredson’s theory of circumscription, compromise, and self- creation. In D. Brown (Ed.). Career choice and development (4th ed., pp 85-148). New York, NY: Wiley.