Can we really plan our careers?

Photo by Hunters Race on Unsplash

I’ve had five children go through the schooling system and are now in the workforce. All experienced the usual process of careers guidance as they thought about their future after school – but not one of them is now doing anything close to what they were encouraged to think about at school. There are several possible reasons for this – changing personal circumstances and values alignments, serendipity and circumstance, peer pressure – and, of course, the changing world of work!

So I was interested this morning to read in Stuff that nearly half of Kiwi 15-year-olds expect to work in one of just 10 occupations at age 30, according to a recently released OECD report Dream jobs? Teenagers’ career aspirations and the future of work that compared the career goals of students in 41 countries in 2018. (see report summary slides below)

According to the OECD the top ten career aspirations for 15 year olds are:

1. Engineer
2. Business manager
3. Doctor
4. ICT professional
5. Sportsman
6. Teacher
7. Police officer
8. Mechanic
9. Lawyer
10. Architect
1. Doctor
2. Teacher
3. Business manager
4. Lawyer
5. Nurse/midwife
6. Psychologist
7. Designer
8. Veterinarian
9. Police officer
10. Architect

These lists look pretty similar to what I’d have expected back when I was at school – perhaps supporting the view of Andreas Schleicher, the OECD Education Director. According to Stuff, Schleicher’s concern is that so many young people appeared to be choosing their dream job from a short list of “popular, traditional” occupations rather than new jobs that were the result of digitalisation.

The question we need to consider is how can we expect our young people to make informed and future-focused career choices when their reference points are very narrow and they have no idea where the jobs that attract them can go?

So what is the answer – should we look to create new lists of the sorts of jobs that our young people could be encouraged to consider? There are already plenty of those, created by groups and organisations researching the most rapidly expanding areas of the workforce – most of which appear to be either driven by technological developments, or are in the area of caring services.

The difficulty with creating more lists is that even these will go out of date as the pace of change increases, and the complexity of life continues, with the unexpected consequences of our human actions creating even more challenges. For example, in the filed of medicine the issue of coping with pandemics is unlikely to have been a part of the career choice reasoning for a young person even 20 years ago.

My view is that, rather than focus our attention on these lists (which, I concede do have some use) we need to be thinking more about the skills, competencies and dispositions our young people will need to thrive in a future world. In 2018 the World Economic Forum published its Future of Jobs report in which they identified the top ten skills they believe young people should be developing as they prepare for the future of work.

Top Ten Skills: Source – Future of Jobs Report, World Economic Forum

The point to note here is that even these are seen to be changing and evolving over time!

So, at the beginning of a new year as schools prepare themselves with programmes designed to engage and enthuse another intake of students, ensuring they are prepared to thrive in the future etc. what sorts of things should educators be thinking about to ensure this happens?

In section 1 of the NZ Productivity Commission’s recently released report titled “Educating the Future Workforce” the authors state;

As well as enabling learners to adapt, a good education system is itself adaptable to changing circumstances. An education system that can learn and adapt to changing circumstances is likely to be better at supporting successful approaches and initiatives and at dropping those that are less successful.

This prompts my thinking for today. If we are genuine about preparing our students for a world of change (including careers, lifestyle etc) then the key is to develop in them the sorts of skills and dispositions outlined in the WEF list above, rather than endeavour to ‘steer’ them towards a specific career option. To do that well we need to ensure that our own mindsets and behaviours as educators (and as schools and as a system!) model these sorts of things.

So as we begin the year by reflecting on our school vision, mission and values etc. the question we need to be asking ourselves is…

“…to what extent (and how) are we as a school and as individuals demonstrating our ability to learn and adapt to changing circumstances, so that our programmes and approaches model and support the behaviours and dispositions we hope to grow and develop in our learners?”

Some specific areas of inquiry may include asking, “how flexible/adaptable are we when it comes to embracing new ways of doing things as a staff/school, such as…

  • Changing the timetable to allow for more in-depth investigations, and creating space/time to go deep into areas of interest to students
  • Mixing things up to enable more cross-curricular approaches, with themes/topics designed to traverse traditional curricula boundaries?
  • Incorporating more ‘authentic’ contexts as a focus for study, utilizing expertise and a knowledge-base that exists within the community – or beyond?
  • Using technology in new/different ways as a means of mediating the connections between students and those who can help inform their learning (e.g. video links to experts, interviews with community members etc.) – and for representing their learning to others (e.g. sharing via a website or social media channels).
  • Exploring alternative approaches to providing evidence of achievement for assessment purposes – some of which may involve recognition of learning that has taken place outside of the bounds of what is catered for in-school time? (Specifically where these things related to the development of the personal skills/competencies listed in the WEF list above).
  • Working collaboratively in staff teams to teach a class or classes – mixing it up so that the one-teacher to one-class model no longer exists, and the emphasis is on providing expertise and knowledge when and where required by learners?

Perhaps you can think of other items that could be added to this list as a way of demonstrating your own or your school’s capacity for being flexible/adaptable in how you work with learners?

Leave a Reply