When is the Right Time for Young Learners to Start Thinking about Potential Careers?

Year 7 went on a team building trip to Osmington Bay PGL centre for a weekend of activities and friendships.

When is the Right Time for Young Learners to Start Thinking about Potential Careers?

Year 7 went on a team building trip to Osmington Bay PGL centre for a weekend of activities and friendships.

How to approach career planning

Too Much, Too Soon Vs Too Little, Too Late

Put simply, the process of raising a child is one of equipping that individual with the means to survive and thrive in the world. The better prepared they are for their lives ahead, the greater the likelihood that they will go on to have a successful and happy existence.  

While this endpoint is universally agreed upon, there is a shifting consensus on the timing of certain stages of development in between. With regards to financial literacy, for example, conventional thought dictates that to make a child aware of the world of money is to burden them with a stress they are not yet ready for – a pressure that is ultimately counter-productive to their growth.  

Research, however, suggests that quite the opposite is true. Various studies have found that children respond positively to a carefully managed introduction to the weight of financial responsibility and that this feeling of taboo around the subject of money can actually promote negative associations with it.

Another area of child development going through a similar period of revision is career aspirations. Recent surveys suggest that the majority of parents and guardians and education providers are now of the opinion that, far from being restrictive, an early introduction to the question of our children’s future is actually liberating.

Here, we will take a look at what the current thoughts are on this question and when we should be getting our children to think about – and build positive links with – the world of work.

Career-Related Learning (CRL) in Primary Schools

According to a paper written in 2018 called What Works? Career-related Learning in Primary Schools – commissioned by the Careers & Enterprise Company and quoted on the government’s website – children begin to form ideas about their future as soon as they start primary education. These notions are linked to their expanding curiosity in the world around them and are formed by the structures and patterns they see – not all of which are positive or constructive.

Children are sensitive and perceptive. Over the course of their childhood, they will have built an image of the world according to their experience of it. A report from the OECD international economics think tank says that children are facing restrictions on their future aspirations in employment by the age of seven.

By the time they get to secondary school age, most children will have grasped the concept of a set of parameters being connected to race, gender, social class and intelligence, including the career and educational prospects typically available to each.  Suffice to say, some of these connections are not ideal.

So, this process is ongoing from an early age, with or without our input.  The risk in allowing this image to go by unchallenged is that it could be in conflict with a child’s natural aspirations and could kill a career ambition before it ever really gets started. According to What Works?, these restricted occupational expectations influence everything from the effort children will put into particular lessons to the subjects they eventually choose to study and the lines of employment they end up pursuing.

In a sense, then, to do nothing is to potentially consolidate notions about the world your child already has – ones you may not want them to have and the content of which you can no longer control. The idea is to get ahead of the curve and to start this career-related learning at the point that it begins to happen naturally anyway.

Starting early also gives you the option of controlling the gradient of the learning curve.  There is an important distinction to be made here between careers-related learning and careers guidance. The latter is focussed on career choice – and parents and guardians rightly have concerns about directing children towards a certain occupation – whereas CRL is a slow-and-steady exposure to what a range of jobs entail and what is needed to get them.  With this distinction in mind, this process of maturation should begin in its earliest stages by the age of five, according to experts.

Secondary School: The Gradual Revelation

As we have seen, by the time children reach secondary school, many of their associations with their potential futures have already been made. With a balanced, engaging and inclusive web of experience of what it means to be involved in certain pursuits, the process becomes one of gentle positive reinforcement. Nurture any interests that a child gravitates towards and eventually they will naturally find their own hierarchy of importance and commit accordingly.

Once they have a bit of an idea of where their interests and talents lie, a picture will form of what it is they might want to do with them professionally, at which point the narrowing of their educational field of focus before their GCSEs will be a lot more straightforward than it might otherwise have been. 

In 2011, the Education Act made providers of education responsible for young people’s access to independent careers guidance between the ages of 13 and 18. From the first of January 2023, these responsibilities were extended to ensure that all pupils from years 8 through to 13 have at least 6 opportunities to meet a range of providers of education.  This is in the hope that by the time they leave school; they will have gained enough experience along a broad enough spectrum to be confident that the choices they have made regarding their future are right for them as individuals.

All Bases Covered…

There is nothing more natural than a parent or guardian wanting to protect their young from growing up too soon, but as with any task, raising a child shouldn’t be left to the last minute.  

There is a growing body of evidence to suggest that starting their education into the world of work from an early age is the way to go. The doctrine of ‘little and often’ seldom fails; the development of our children is no exception.

Ollie is a QEH 'lifer', as he joined QEH Juniors in Year 3, eleven years ago.  It's been great to watch his development through the years, both on and off the pitch.

Thank you Friends of QEH!

Ollie is a QEH 'lifer', as he joined QEH Juniors in Year 3, eleven years ago.  It's been great to watch his development through the years, both on and off the pitch.

Ollie signs for the Bears!

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You run a remarkable school with an ethic that is truly unique. It shines through in each and every boy. There’s something in the way the teachers know every boy’s talent and in the way the boys support each other (while also embracing real competition!) that’s just remarkable.
Esther, Parent
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