How can I help my child with making an informed career choice?

Helping your child make career choices that are appropriate for their skills, interests and lifestyle preferences can be challenging. This article includes tips on how to support your child with these difficult decisions.

You can guide your child in making an informed career decision by helping them to:

  • Keep their academic options open: In secondary school, the courses your child chooses can be important determinants of their future career direction. Many adolescents are not ready to make career decisions in high school; others change their mind. Encourage your child to keep their academic options open by speaking with their teachers or guidance counsellors.
  • Find the right fit: In order to make good decisions, your child needs an assessment of their interests as well as their abilities and achievement levels. Report cards, test results and your child's teachers and guidance counsellors can help with this. For example, if your child continually struggles with math despite good motivation, extra help and hard work, then those occupations heavily reliant on mathematics, such as engineering or accounting, would not be a good choice.
  • Come up with a realistic plan: Some adolescents may be unrealistic in their potential choices, not considering the competition, opportunities and their abilities. This is as true for choosing to be a surgeon as it is for becoming a rock star. While it is healthy to dream and consider different ideas, at some point a realistic plan needs to be set in place.
  • Discover what they like: Providing varied experiences for your child offers an opportunity for exploration, building skills and developing interests. These do not have to be expensive, and could include exposure to outdoor activities, music, cooking, architectural tours, etc. The more they know about, the better informed they can be about what they like, what is happening in the world, and what career options are out there.
  • Learn about what you do: Sharing your own career journey and what you do at your job can be very useful. However, keep in mind that your knowledge of current work trends, as well as academic and professional requirements, may need to be updated.
  • Build flexibility into their plan: Life would be really easy, predictable and possibly boring if our first choices always worked out. You can help your child come up with a number of career options that would suit them. For example, if a plan to become a speech therapist is not possible, then other areas in health sciences or communications can be planned for without too many major academic adjustments.
  • Find the right balance: It's natural to be concerned about economic security, but finding meaningful work is also important for personal satisfaction . Some people have a strong desire to work with their hands, work with children, prepare food or own their own business. You can help your child find a way to respect these desires and also maintain financial security.
  • Research the labour market: Help your child find out about salaries, job prospects and working conditions. But keep in mind that choosing a career based solely on economic projections and job prospects doesn't always work. There will always be events that are impossible to predict and that will have a major impact on the job market, whether they are due to politics, shifts in the economy, natural disasters or technological advances. Choosing a career based on interests and reasonable job prospects reduces the chances that your child will feel cheated if opportunities are limited by the time they graduate from college or university.
  • Seek professional advice: A professional opinion is useful even if it just confirms a direction, and there are cases when it becomes even more important.  These cases include, but aren't limited to: high school students whose aspirations and plans are out of line with their academic achievements, undecided students in the last years of secondary school, college or university students who are still unfocused or dissatisfied with their current studies, students whose plans rely on areas of weakness, and even those who dislike school and are ready to go to work without developing some marketable skills.
  • Find counselling: High school students can consult with their guidance counsellor. College and university students can talk to counsellors at their institution. Other good resources include youth programs and employment agencies, as well as family and private counsellors. If you have an Employee Assistance Program through your work, this service could also be useful.

You may not share your children's values, interests or hopes for their future; but if your children are reasonably happy to go to work and can support themselves, then an important part of your role has been accomplished.

Contributed by Geneviève Beaupré and Susan Qadeer. They have over 10 years experience working in university and college settings, providing career, academic, and personal counselling to students.

For More Information

  • Specialist High Skills Majors - This program to can help high school students find their career paths and develop essential skills that will better prepare them for life after high school.
  • Universities & Colleges in Ontario - Find the study program that most interests you and determine where to study in Canada. From the Ontario Ministry of Advanced Education and Skills Development.
  • Working in Canada - A tool to find labour market information such as job opportunities, job demand, wages, skill requirements. From the Government of Canada.
  • What is labour market information? Do I need it? - This article may be useful for understanding what labour market information is and how it can help you in making an informed career choice.
  • Ontario Public Libraries - Libraries offer great resources for researching careers. View this list of libraries in Ontario to find one in your area. From the Ministry of Tourism, Culture and Sport.
Last updated: November 14, 2016 4001637