Traditionally, careers advice in schools was often offered in a desultory fashion in the year before the student was due to leave school. After all, why would kids need to consider it any earlier? Shouldn't they be enjoying their childhood, before they have to think about their adult life?
In fact, it's not that simple. The reality is that even very young children do think about what kind of career they're going to have. Preparing them for it gives them the opportunity to make a far more informed choice.
What Do You Want to Be When You Grow Up?
Children often start to think of their adult careers surprisingly early. If you ask a five-year-old "What do you want to be when you grow up?" the answer is likely to be unrealistic, but many children do at least have an answer. According to research by Ashton Trice and Kimberley Rush, however, these choices are likely to be strongly influenced by gender bias. This process seems to continue through primary school age, with stereotypes of race, culture, class and background also affecting the child's aspirations. While this may not seem so important when the answer to the question is something like an astronaut or a pop star, it can make a big difference when they start thinking more seriously about jobs.
The Purpose of Early Careers Teaching
It's sometimes assumed that early careers training will indoctrinate children into career choices too early. In fact, the opposite is true — the purpose is to show kids the range of opportunities open to them, when they do come to start making choices. As noted, children have already absorbed a large range of assumptions about what they can and can't be when they grow up, which has traditionally restricted choices. If you want your daughter to know she can be an engineer if she chooses, or your son that he can be a nurse — or a working-class childof either sex that they can be a doctor or lawyer — they need to be exposed to that possibility young.
What's the Best Age to Start?
Several studies have suggested that children's identity starts to form early, and that this includes aspirations for their adult career. By seven years old, for example, children are likely to name actual jobs when asked what they want to be when they grow up. The first point at which most children have to make a significant choice that will impact their future is when they choose which GCSEs they're going to study for. It's important, then, that they're not only thinking about career options by then, but that they've been exposed for some years to the possibilities open to them. Research has suggested that it's realistic to start formal careers education by about eight or nine years old. However, this certainly doesn't rule out encouraging younger children to think informally about what they want to be when they grow up.
What Can You Do?
Besides formal careers lessons, you can encourage your own children to think about the future and provide a blend of encouragement and reality check. For example, if your child expresses a desire to be a dancer, by all means arrange dance lessons for them. This will allow them to explore further if they're serious, or else show them the reality if it's an unrealistic fad. Register with TutorExtra to find any resources you might need for helping your child to learn about future career paths.