Helping your children make good career choices

By Susan Pohorski

After hearing a piece on NPR about the MasterChef Junior finale last Friday evening and finding myself home alone, I decided to check out the show. I had not watched previous episodes so I was totally amazed as I watched the two finalists choose ingredients and prepare their three-course meals. These middle schoolers are truly masters.

So I wondered, would their parents force them to go to a large university to study business, engineering or psychology? These kids were obviously passionate about food and cooking. They are already well on their way to success as chefs.

While your child may not be an expert at cooking, perhaps there is some other passion or talent they haven’t discovered that could lead to a successful career. Many kids have career aspirations limited by media images of superheroes, supermodels, rock stars, detectives, or professional athletes. Others admire their teachers and want to be like them.

Two boys explore robotics using Lego building blocks. Youngsters explore robotics at a Nicolet College summer camp.

A recent post in Education Week (EW) pointed out that students are choosing majors that don’t match their interests and strengths. Survey results of students who take the ACT indicate only 36 percent of students choose a major that is a good fit. Why is this? Are they choosing a career in which they think they will make lots of money or make their parents proud? Or are they just not aware of all the career options open to them?

According to the EW post, Steve Kappler, vice president for career and college readiness with ACT, says the results show the need for more career counseling at an earlier age.

What does your child do in his or her spare time? What books do they read? What clubs are they in? Does your son like to tinker with things? Is your daughter fascinated with the stars?

Turn off the TV and allow kids time alone to pursue whatever they want. What would they do? Watch and observe. Ask questions about their interests. Think of ways to encourage them to explore. Have them take a Career Interest Survey to find out what career area they may like.

Yes, some youngsters will make good CEOs, doctors, engineers or lawyers. But what about the kids who are going to be happy and successful in refrigeration, cosmetology, web design or police science? Don’t make the mistake of forcing them to pursue a bachelor’s degree in some other field. Help your child identify interests and strengths and point them to whatever education they need to make a career with those.

Start the process early to avoid costly changes in higher education choices. Students who start out with one career in mind and find it was the wrong choice for them waste time and money going down the wrong path.

Did you change your mind about the career you wanted? What helped you decide?