Coaching Your Teen Through Career Exploration

by Catherine on 14 Feb, 2016

VICTORIA, BC–(CTV Vancouver Island – Feb 12, 2016) – It is fun to see yourself in the news.  CTV Vancouver Island recently ran this story about coaching teens in the vast world of career exploration. Astrid Braunschmidt, the reporter, is the stepmom of a soon-to-be grade 9 student and visited our office to get the low-down on what we do and to pick my brain for things I have learned working in this area for the past 7 years.  I thought I would share these thoughts with you, the adult in the teen’s life because one thing is for certain: many of our teens would rather be texting their friends than talking about career paths.

When I present at schools and conferences, I try to create the ‘why’ of education/career education, through storytelling, using my career path as an example. The video version of that story is called "Becoming Adaptable."  It is always important to keep in mind that the objective is not K-12, it is K-Career. We must continually look over the horizon of graduation to the career, and work our way back to today, checking that we are on a path to our goal.

In school, we want students to be "engaged."  If students have a reason to pick the courses they do, then they are more likely to learn how to learn because of their interest.  One great strategy to create engaged students is to build vocational identity. Learning how to learn leads to becoming adaptable, a key component – critical in a changing world. Right now, on average, students are changing their major about 3 times, so adaptability is imminently useful, let alone when the world changes while you were studying.


Ten years after my 10th grade (when phones were still rotary dial), all known knowledge in the history of the world was on our phones in our pockets. I have been working in that space ever since.  What prerequisite could we have taken in the mid-late 80s that taught us what to do?  We’ve had to adapt. Consider what communication, shipping, culinary arts, and many other industries will be like in the next 10 years, if anything Elon Musk talks about happens.

The trait ‘hope’ is essentially the belief in a goal that you can reach and a path that you can follow. Career education has strong academic roots in this concept (goal can be career, path can be higher education, for example) because if a student truly has hope and can see themselves on the path to the goal, it is the single biggest predictor of their academic achievement, bigger than grades, personality or intelligence.

Life at home contributes considerably towards a student’s genuine inquiry about what paths lay before them.


1.  Educate them

When your teen goes to a career education class, or meets with the counsellor, arm them with the knowledge that picking courses as a result of interest is the best path to becoming adaptable, a critical life competency.


 2.  Expand horizons

By grade 10, many students still have a ‘Curious George’ or ‘Richard Scary’ level of occupational awareness (e.g. Teacher, Doctor, Lawyer.)  BC’s Provincial Technical Institute has 290 programs, and none of them are those choices…  An engaged parent can help prompt exploration.  There are resources:  counsellors, career centres, ChatterHigh, etc.  Don’t wait passively for someone or something to expose them to career choices: the key is to start exploring, becoming active (or personally involved) in discussing what they could choose as a career.


3.  Learn about themselves

There is a wide range of resources and surveys (e.g. Myers Briggs) available to help students understand more about themselves.  It is very likely your teen’s school has access to these resources.  The answers to these survey questions may change during high school as they are exposed to new topics, fields of work and experiences.  Does it make sense to do this survey once, on one particular day, during 4 years of high school? The outcomes of these surveys are just reference points that you can apply to the known universe of careers to generate a list of potential options.


4. Occupational Path Assessment  

This is an assignment your teen will get asked to do in a career education class.  The very sound of this makes students’ eyelids droop.  Yet, this is what it boils down to.  When tasked with cooking dinner would you go to the grocery store and fill your basket with items, only to go home and then read the recipe and instructions?  No?  So why do this with education?  Why fill your basket with courses without understanding why they are there?  During formative teenage years, any career interest should be explored from the perspective of ‘what does the path look like to get there?’ combined with ‘what do I know about myself?’ to see if it makes sense.  Rinse, repeat.  Parents can spearhead the effort to explore the path through their own research/knowledge, or encouraging a conversation with a teacher/counsellor or a career development professional in your community.

It is for these reasons that career education and exploration is the most important topic in school.  It has the potential to give a reason to every other course your teen will take, which builds engagement, which leads to adaptability.

There are many people – including you – along the path in the proverbial ‘village’ to help your teen once they’ve expressed an interest.  It all starts with encouraging your teen to look up, ahead, and start the search.

It does take a village, so please feel free to contribute your ideas and thoughts.

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