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Chris Targett
10 February 2017

Recently I was providing careers guidance at an options evening in one of my schools, and had a queue of students and parents who were looking for support. It was a great evening, with many different conversations. What struck me was the wonderful variety of aspirations, dreams and ideas; all of these fantastic young minds searching for direction and clarity (ways to move forwards). Reaching the end of their studies in Year 11, each individual is on the edge of moving from the compulsory to optional, making (for some) their first big decision in life.

It is as this point that it can be easy to forget that they don’t have the benefit of hindsight or experience to help explain their decisions. In many ways they haven’t had the chance to learn from their mistakes and are in that really exciting time of deciding what they wish to try first, which may be the right step or might not; this is something that only time will tell. None of us can know with one hundred percent accuracy which step is the right one for them, or even us. Yet, through experience we gain career management skills and learn what works for us and what is important to us.

Many of us also learn that what works for one person, doesn’t for another, with each of us having different priorities. For example, I always knew that I wanted to help people or try and make a difference in the world; as well as enjoy the work I do. My wife, however, is far more pragmatic and sees work as the means to an end, to support her hobbies such as kite surfing. For our young people in Year 11, they are tentatively figuring out what is important to them; often from a view of the world which has been quite sheltered or mediated.

It can be easy for those of us who are slightly longer in the tooth to dismiss their quandaries and indecisions as painless or straight forward. We must remember what it was like for us and our friends at that age, the mixture of feeling indestructible and knowing that anything was possible, whilst thinking we knew how the world worked (when in reality we were quite naive). At the same time I can recall that some people in my peer group were feeling fearless and others fearful (depending on the individual). I remember the dreamers, a few pragmatists, the arrogant alpha males and those who were happy being quieter, the organised who had it all planned out, contrasting with those who were just happy to leap and trust in luck or faith, as well as those who were rebellious. It was a very emotive time and continues to be for our students to this day.

As the years pass and we stay working longer in the sector, it becomes vital for those of us in education and community support to guard against becoming flippant or disinterested in the plight, feelings and paths of our clients, whether adults or young people. What really matters is making sure we are tuning into their perspective on reality/life and how they feel about where they are heading and the choices they are making. For one person that which can easily be overcome, can be a mountain to another. Just because we see a situation as “easy” to resolve, it doesn’t mean that for them it is. It is crucial that we hold this understanding and be there with them, whilst they work through their dilemmas; to try and “fix them” or the situation doesn’t do them any favours, as they are then unable to learn and develop their own career management skills through experience.

For example, one of my students this year has dropped in to see me three to four times, as they explore different factors in their decision making process, because this is what they need. To rush them isn’t to help them, but to hinder their reflection and explorations. Another client in a similar situation has been quite happy in making a similar decision very quickly, with very little intervention. It is for these varying situations that we need to provide not only suitable levels of access to careers guidance within the settings we work, but also individual choice, so the client who needs several sessions can access this, and the student who may need only one isn’t forced into more or made to feel they ought to have more. When we look at how we inspire, support and work with our clients, how we set up our services (within the various commercial constraints), it is vital to consider how we get this balance right.

We shouldn’t just stick to the same model for years because it is what we have always done. We should reflect, gain feedback from all our stakeholders (parents, teachers, clients and employers), and use this to review and develop our services, to ensure our clients are getting the best possible service they can. Thereby, we will be providing them with the space and support to explore, research, reflect and grow through their own decision making skills.

Written by: Chris Targett

This article was originally posted on the CXK blog on Wednesday 4th January 2017

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