Five career-planning strategies for students

Preparing to choose an occupation is no overnight task. It requires preteens and teens to envision work that will engage them, to research what it will take to qualify for that work and to carry out the steps to make it happen.

Some kids are naturals at this. Others need nudges. If the student in your home falls in the second category, take heart. There are actions you can take now that will assist your child in this crucial transition. In some cases, all that’s required is a twist in perception.

 Let students take the lead

In Sutherlin High School’s Career & Technical Education program, certain upperclassmen are encouraged to design their own curriculums, subject to an instructor’s approval. This not only encourages initiative, but also allows the student to pursue a course of interest more likely to end in success.

Parents can lay the groundwork for a child’s independence by paying attention to what animates her and engaging with her on those topics. A recent training by the Search Institute sponsored by DCPSS challenged participants to support youth in finding their “sparks” – hidden flames that light their proverbial fire and get them excited. Make it easy for your child to hook into resources that fuel interest. Give kids opportunities for hands-on experience that make it natural to explore related careers as they grow older. “Career guidance” doesn’t sound so weighted if it’s linked to an established passion. And as students get older and more accustomed to providing instead of accepting input, they’ll be more motivated to chart a course to academic and life skills.

Stop and think: Can you name three activities or sparks that make your children’s eyes light up? If not, maybe it’s time to delve more into their worlds.

 Expose kids to real-life examples

Kids are inspired by success stories. And the Internet is abuzz with examples of young people who are preparing for dynamic futures. An article from Maine tells the stories of four young women who realized before or in high school that they might be suited for science or math majors, and how they decided to enter fields with few fellow female students. A report from Georgia follows a high school junior enrolled in a two-year program pairing him with a scientist. The teen not only is gaining college credit, but also doing research that may help drive up monarch butterfly populations. In Alaska, students who showed initiative were accepted into a five-week summer session that placed them with like-minded peers, all of them taking part in activities ranging from building unmanned aerial vehicles to carbon fiber training sessions.

Exposure to these stories show it’s possible to turn a vague desire into concrete experience. Got any ideas for what kind of samples would inspire your teen?

Engage with learning, not just schools

A university lecturer and researcher from the United Kingdom penned a recent piece urging parents to take the lion’s share of responsibility in educating their children. Not as home-schoolers or gadfly’s, but in making the most of the 75 percent of the time children are not in classes.

Janet Goodall of the University of Bath suggested several ways to increase parents’ interaction with their children, starting with a tweak in the age old question, “What did you do in school today?” Goodall reframes the question as “What did you learn today?”

Other tips are reading to young children, letting students know parents expect them to finish homework and applying the day’s schoolwork to home activities. For example, lessons on weights and measures can be carried on in the kitchen as meals are prepared.

What part of your family life could help drive home a lesson in math, science, reading or geography?

Start thinking of school as the real world

A New York-based teacher and author confesses she’s exasperated whenever students are told, “When you get to the real world … ”

Starr Sackstein writes in an Education Week blog that the term belittles the world students attend every day. As she puts it, “School is ‘the real world’ for children between the ages of 4-18. It may not be a paying job, but it is a job nonetheless. Every day is filled with learning, reflecting, practicing, and preparing for their futures.”

Kids need to know that what they are doing now, today, affects what they’ll be doing a year or even a decade from now. Not only that, but the present is not something we can all put on hold. Giving them the impression that their real lives won’t start until they hit 21 does a disservice to the work students are tackling now.

What are some important life lessons – whether it’s dealing with disappointment, sharing with peers or coping with tough workloads – that your child picked up in school last year? How can those be applied to a portfolio or career exploration?

Find the ‘A’ in every subject

Although the popular term is STEM learning, the Umpqua Valley STEAM Hub chose to add the “A” to reflect an essential component to all the STEM disciplines. We call it “art” for short, but it represents design thinking, digital creation and innovative solutions.

Adding the “A” emphasizes the personal element of creativity that our minds bring to science, technology, engineering and math. It transforms subjects sometimes regarded as dry and stagnant to living, evolving explorations with a personal stamp.

Kids often make up their minds at a young age what subjects they are “good” or “bad” in. Sometimes, all that’s needed to turn bad into good is an allowance for individuality. What learning style works best for a child? How can field experience turn a shadowy concept into a memorable lesson?

You can almost say that “A” stands for bringing a subject alive. And that applies to career research as well. A trip to a U.S. Forest Service project has more impact than a photo of trees in a brochure. A career day at a hospital emergency room means so much more than a pamphlet on health care jobs.

What opportunities are available in Douglas County to make career options come alive? Keep in touch with DCPSS and learn more.