Career Planning: How Young Is Too Young to Start?
It’s never too early to begin thinking about the future and start career planning… but not everyone agrees.
There are conflicting viewpoints about the best time to introduce the concept of career development to students. Here’s how one Xello staffer (a.k.a. a “Xellion”) discovered the benefits of starting the career planning process early – by testing our tools with his 8-year-old.
Evan Hann wants to save the world. Preferably while wearing a cape and zipping around under the cover of darkness. Since before he can remember, he’s been nurturing the dream of becoming a ninja.
“He may be only 8 years old, but Evan talks about becoming a ninja all the time. His idea of a ninja is helping people while performing cool kicks and flips,” said his dad Jarrod.
As the VP of Sales for Xello, an online career planning program, Jarrod is accustomed to using the tool for students starting in middle school. It hadn’t occurred to him to introduce the concept future readiness to his third grader. But when Evan karate chopped his way into the room one Sunday afternoon while Jarrod was working, a light bulb switched on—and his answer to the inevitable, “What’re you doing, Dad?” was honest.
“I’m helping kids discover their future job.” Curious, Evan hopped on Jarrod’s lap and the two of them took a tour of Xello, including its extensive list of careers.
“I already know what I want to do. I’m going to be a ninja. Is that on the list?” asked Evan.
When they’d confirmed that ninja wasn’t a standard career, Jarrod suggested they try ‘martial arts instructor’. He explained that, while they’re not exactly ninjas, they do a lot of the same work Evan was drawn to. A profile for the career popped up depicting a male and a female martial arts instructor doing high kicks and Evan’s eyes lit up. He began reading the description out loud.
“Yeah! I’m going to be a martial arts instructor when I grow up,” he confirmed when finished.
Deciding to extend the experiment a little further, Jarrod pointed out the part of the profile that indicated a martial arts instructor makes between $15,000 and $40,000 a year. He noted to Evan that for the first few years he’d probably make the low end of the range.
“Of course, he thought $10,000/year was fantastic. Then I showed him a few other jobs that make more money. The first one I pulled up was a doctor, who makes $66,000 to $200,000 a year. His reaction was immediate, ‘I’ll be a doctor during the week and a martial arts instructor on the weekends!’”
“Giving him the language and authoritative information allowed him to retain his identity and his dreams but made them more realistic,” said Jarrod. And while he doesn’t necessarily know yet how well a Doctor matches with his skills or interests, for now Evan proudly gushes about his dream of becoming a martial arts instructor—and a doctor.
As Jarrod and Evan’s story demonstrates, even looking at a very small part of Xello — its career exploration module — there are distinct benefits to introducing future readiness planning to children in primary grades. Access to a future readiness and planning platform that can grow with them equips children with the skills, knowledge and attitudes that become the building blocks of meaningful life and career development. Here are just some of the benefits of starting early.
“There’s plenty of research that suggests that the number one attribute to success, far more potent than intelligence or work ethic, is self-awareness,” said Jarrod. “The earlier you can develop self-awareness the further ahead you are in being able to make better decisions for yourself.”
While kids like Evan are positive about their passions and aptitude, many other children aren’t so sure. Most online career planning platforms offer personality tests that help students explore careers that suit them. In Xello, for instance, once students have completed their personality and learning styles assessments, primary and secondary competencies become associated with each career. This provides even young students with a strong understanding of careers that are a good match, as well as what kind of work they may not enjoy as much.
With a personalized account, their career planning profile can grow with them as they develop new interests and discard others. They can plot their passions and develop a keen sense of who they are—and who they’re becoming—as they mature into higher grades.
Develops Financial Literacy and Other Real-World Skills
It’s one thing to dream of being a ninja—and quite another to understand the real-life impact of a financially unstable career. By introducing the concept of salary, work/life balance, the physical demands associated with specific careers and the type of soft skills (communications, relationship building) required, kids begin to understand the bigger picture. Even 8-year-old Evan understood that a lower salary would compromise his ability to “buy a car, house, and food.”
Online career exploration and planning tools can provide a window into what it’s like to do specific jobs, including “day-in-the-life” accounts from real people, a description of typical workplace conditions and inside information like whether they’re on their feet all day, work in teams or alone. This realism empowers kids to create career goals that fit with the kind of future they envision for themselves. They understand what it takes to earn the lifestyle they’re after. They’ll also learn what education and training they’ll need to pursue, which can help motivate them to dig into the subjects that are important to their futures.
Helps Promote Healthy Social and Emotional Learning
Giving young students the opportunity to reflect on their passions and aptitudes—and how they relate to their future—contributes significantly to social and emotional learning, including:
- Responsible decision-making
- Social awareness
Access to the rich information in on online career planning tool can help students recognize that success has limitless definitions. Day-to-day academic and extracurricular activities can take on new resonance when they realize the knowledge and skills they’re building can contribute to a rewarding career path. They can focus on finding the right fit for their personality, skills, and interests, which can bring new meaning to their academic experience.
Prevents Academic Disengagement
School can be an unhappy environment for students who struggle academically or socially. Lessons and activities can feel arbitrary, unfair and difficult to manage. The key is to head it off early.
“Learning and succeeding in school requires active engagement. … The core principles that underlie engagement are applicable to all schools—whether they are in urban, suburban, or rural communities.” … and for those who become disengaged early … “motivation decreases steadily from the early grades of elementary school into high school.”
National Academy of Science’s Research Council (2004)
When the future is opened up to at-risk students — especially at an early age — they can begin to see a pathway forward to a life beyond school. Personality assessments, that comes standard in most online career planning software, help put interests and strengths into perspective. With this newfound knowledge students can begin to connect the dots between careers and what they enjoy doing, getting excited and diving deeper along the way. This includes learning what they need to do achieve these goals, such as take specialized courses in high school, volunteer or participate in extracurriculars.
As most educators will attest, it’s much easier to build and maintain engagement in students when they’re young, than bring back the disengaged.
Conventional wisdom has told us that middle school and high school are the best times for students to begin career readiness activities. After his experience with his young son, Jarrod says he now believes otherwise.
“I think the earlier you start making connections between the work you do at school and careers, the easier it is to start a path forward. There’s real development in younger grades.”
And with Xello with launching a dedicated elementary experience, coming in Fall 2019, Evan will have much more opportunity to explore career options on his own soon.