Conversations Are Essential to Career Exploration

By - April 9, 2020

Flight attendant: Is there a doctor on this flight?   

Dad: *nudging me* That should've been you   

Me: Not now, Dad   

Dad: Not asking for a YouTuber to help, are they?   

That’s the template for a popular meme originally posted by the parody Twitter account The Dad in 2019. The dad pokes fun at graphic designers, video game creators, and project managers in other versions.  

The hypothetical dad is badgering and out of touch. It’s funny. It might even be relatable. But for those of us who work in college and career readiness, it's actually frustrating. Parents and guardians highly influence students’ career pathways. If this dad engaged in an open and honest dialogue about his child’s interests and chosen career, he would know that YouTubers, graphic designers, and project managers are all viable, meaningful, and in some cases even lucrative career paths in today’s world.  

Gallup/Strada report of 22,000 adults found 55 percent said their “informal network” (family, friends, community members) most directly impacted their career choice. North Carolina’s Henderson County Public Schools found the same results when they surveyed middle- and high-school students last year. Eighty-five percent of students said parents, grandparents, and guardians influenced them most when it came to choosing a career. “We focus so much energy on educating those in the building,” said Dr. Wendy Frye, director of high schools and career and technology education. “But when you get that feedback, you realize we need more outreach to parents and guardians.”  

Last year, the district launched “Career Conversations,” an initiative to provide support and resources to help facilitate classroom discussions and important conversations at home. Each month, an e-newsletter is sent to every middle- and high-school family in the district that includes conversation starters related to different employability skills. October's focus, communication, prompted students to ask parents and guardians questions such as, “what communication skills do you use in your career?” and “what communication skills do you think are important to be successful in any career?” These newsletters ensure Henderson County parents and guardians are part of the career exploration process. 

The “informal” network is not the only place where conversations need to be fostered. Educators cannot rely solely on tools and content to guide students – they need to be ready to start meaningful career-focused talks with them. A survey of 32,000 college students found those who felt confident in future career success either often spoke with faculty about career options or had an educator reach out to discuss career plans.  

There are plenty of great tools out there to ensure these conversations are productive. The staff at Pathfinder Education Program in Lincoln, Nebraska, uses to start career conversations with the students they serve. The platform’s job-shadowing videos lay the groundwork by connecting with students in an accessible way.”    

Pathfinder’s eLearning Instructor and Career & Technical Teacher David Beatty says observing which videos students gravitate toward helps him get students talking.  For example, Beatty discovered one student, who’d never been forthcoming about goals, had been exploring videos and information related to a career as a customs broker – a path Beatty would never have guessed was of interest to the young man.  The information from allowed Beatty to break the ice and start a meaningful, ongoing exchange with the student.  

Career conversation starters are everywhere. A news article. A blog. A podcast. A personal story. And yes, even a meme. Videos are particularly good since eight in ten Gen Zers already share YouTube videos with their parents and other adult family members as means to start conversations about myriad issues, career exploration among them. 

No matter the entry point, as an educator, you’re trying to find common ground – between teachers and students, students and families, and students and community members who can share their experiences.  The shiniest new career exploration tool or initiative will not be as effective if you cannot parlay it in to a conversation between individuals. 

Think about the role conversations you have had in your own career. These critical conversations are how professionals navigate the world of work and learn things schools don’t usually teach—often, they are the currency of social capital. We network to find professional opportunities, learn from talking with mentors, and later share insights with mentees. There’s a reason that an individual and career may look like a great match on paper, but only in the job interview – where people are talking with one another – will the match crystallize, or one or both parties realize it’s not a good fit? Conversations are integral to careers and should be just as integral to career development.  

Dynamic content does not work if it exists in a vacuum. When planning and designing career development and exploration initiatives, build time into the lessons and curriculum for meaningful conversations. Take the extra step and plan ways for students to engage parents, guardians, friends, and community members. Plan to use collected data and observations to start pointed conversations with students. Center your career development decisions around building connections, and let the conversations begin.  

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