Helping Children Discover Their Career Passion

Barb Kelsey, Career Services Manager at Western Technical College, advises parents on how to help their children find their career passion.



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Announcer: This is Making Futures; helping individuals discover their passion and fulfill their potential.

Interviewer: Today we will be speaking with Barb Kelsey, career and assessment manager at Western Technical College, about career passion.

Interviewer: There's a lot of talk today about career passion, and being satisfied in your work, or happy in your work. But we would like to discuss that topic on a little deeper level and think about how parents can help their children in their career search. Barb, what is career passion? How would you define it?

Barb: Well, Susan, I would say career passion is feeling that you are doing something that you are supposed to be doing. It's finding more joy and pleasure and satisfaction in your work.

Interviewer: And what are some indications of career passion?

Barb: Well, I think that people can identify and find out what their career passions are by paying close attention to the kinds of things they enjoy doing, especially on their free time. But it can also be paying attention to the types of classes that you enjoy in school. Maybe the time goes by fast and that you find yourself when you're working on an assignment that you kind of get lost in time. That's a good indicator. It can also the kinds of things that you enjoy reading about, enjoy researching, the kind of people that you tend to be drawn to and want to know more about.

Interviewer: If we're speaking to high school students, they perhaps haven't had as much exposure to careers. So how do they know what their passion is? How can we help these young people to know?

Barb: Well actually there are some tools out there. There are some career assessments that are available. Either at or a lot of colleges or high schools will have access to different tools that will help students identify what their interests, values, abilities are and how they relate to the world of work. So, they take some assessments to learn more about themselves, and then these tools kind of help them and give them ideas of how it might relate to a job.

Interviewer: Speaking to parents now, how can parents encourage students to think about their passions?

Barb: Often times, parents have their own ideas or agendas of what they think would be a good idea for their student. I think it's a good idea to spend some time asking your child what they are interested in. Finding out if they've done some kinds of career assessment or planning activities at their school already. And looking at how those results came out. I also think as adults, we have a network of people that we already know that work in different fields. And sometimes, exposing our kids to that or talking about what people do, or just bringing that into normal conversation, is a way to introduce young people to different kinds of careers that are out there. Just by simply asking what somebody does and getting a little bit more information about it can spark interest in areas that you might not have considered.

Interviewer: Oh yeah, that sounds like a good idea. You mentioned that parents have their own expectations. How can parents' expectations limit career choices for their young student?

Barb: I think that as a parent, I'm a parent myself, I have a 19-year-old and a 16-year-old son and daughter, and a child who is already launched in a career. And we tend to want more and better. So if we are told to achieve an associate degree, we might think, I want my child to have a bachelor's degree or a master's degree. And the world of work is constantly changing. And jobs that our children might be working in might not even exist yet. So we can kind of limit their options by having an idea of what might be a good fit for them.

It may start with the idea that your child said, when they were five years old, that they wanted to be a doctor. Kids say things when they're five years old that they have no idea what kind of training or what kind of education or what that real job is like. They might have an idea of going to a doctor's office and that man or woman was nice to them. And they're making their decision based on that. And it sounds really good, it's a career that's considered very prestigious in our society, so as a parent, we might latch on to something like that. We don't realize what kind of pressure it sometimes puts on our kids.

I know from working on the other side. I work in career services. I teach a career development class at a college level, and I hear these stories from young people who are 18, 19, 20 years old, who share that they've already told their families and friends that they were going to do "X". And now they're realizing, as they find out more about what that career pathway looks like, that perhaps no, that's not what they want to do.

So I guess I would just always keep that door open for your child, realizing that it's normal and natural for people to have shifts and changes in their career. So not to get too hung up on one particular choice. That would be my advice.

Interviewer: You just mentioned something about people may choose to be a doctor. Do you feel like a lot of students come to you choose careers based on the money they're going to make rather than some of those other considerations?

Barb: I would say, honestly Susan, that parents are more concerned with money than some of the young people that I work with. I would say, certainly that is part of the picture. It is important to be able to make enough money to support the kind of lifestyle that you want to live or what you would consider to be a successful lifestyle. And it's important to remember that there is quite a range of that expectation. When we work with somebody in career services, or counselors or teachers who are helping these people make these decisions, we tell them that there are many pieces to this puzzle. You're looking at what your interests are, what your values are, what your passions are, but you also want to be able to connect that to work at the end of your training. I don't want to say end, because there really isn't an end. And there tends to be more of an ongoing career journey or pathway.

Interviewer: That's a really good point. Who else can help students determine their career passion or things that they're really interested in and motivated by?

Barb: As I mentioned, career counselors, teachers, coaches, people in your church or your community. Basically anyone that is willing to help. I encourage students to do something called informational interviews. An informational interview is basically interviewing someone who works in a field or profession that you're interested in, and spending 20 or 30 minutes asking them questions about their own career pathway, what they like about their job, what they don't like. Finding out some of the in's and the out's that you couldn't find by just doing research on the web. I think that there are a lot of people out there that are willing to share their expertise if you just ask.

Interviewer: Yeah, I would agree with that. You mentioned some resources earlier on in our conversation, I just want to reiterate some of those today, just some starting points for young students.

Barb: or the, both of those sites have very good resources to explore career pathways more in depth. I would also highly recommend Onet, which is put out by the department of labor as a great resource to find out about particular careers as well as labor market information. And That's a great site to explore labor market information where there's the most job openings, the highest growth areas, you can do information wage comparisons, and do a lot of exploration on that site as well.

Interviewer: That's another really good point, you may be really passionate about a certain career but if nobody is hiring for that career, you're going to be in trouble.

Barb: Right, so we tell people to do their research. And look at if there is going to be a job available. If it's something that they really truly do feel passionate about, they have to be open to relocating for certain types of work. That's part of the puzzle for sure.

Interviewer: I just have one closing question, how early do you think young people can start this process?

Barb: That's a good question. I think we start asking our kids at the ages of four and five, "What do you want to want to be when you grow up?" And at that age, those questions are pretty safe because you just have to come up with an answer and everybody's good with it. I think as students go through school, middle school, high school, that's a time to really be starting their own exploration. Paying attention to what kinds of coursework they like, what kinds of hobbies and things they enjoy. I think you're always doing it.

Interviewer: As you mentioned though, it is a process. It takes some time. What I was trying to get at was that you can't just wait until your senior year in high school and say, "Oh, I have to decide now what I'm going to pursue as a career."

Barb: Right, I would totally agree with that. I would also tell people that part of deciding what you do want to do is ruling out what you don't want to do. If you start early, and you start exploring some career options, even if you're not coming up with the exact title of what you're going to spend the majority of your career doing, You're still ruling things out and learning about yourself.

Interviewer: Crossing them off the list.

Barb: Exactly.

Interviewer: Well again, thank you so much for sharing with us today. I appreciate this. I've been speaking with Barb Kelsey, career and assessment services manager at Western Technical College. Thanks again, Barb.

Barb: Thank you, Susan.

Announcer: Making Futures is a presentation of Wisconsin's 16 Technical Colleges. Thanks for listening.