Kids Explore Career Interests at Different Ages, Stages

— Written By Sarah Moyer and last updated by

At one point, Bill Nye the Science Guy performed his first experiment, and Patrick Mahomes once threw his first football pass. Most people know craftsmen build, computer scientists code and writers tell stories; but how did they get connected to their professions?

For youth, their parents, guardians and other caring adults have the opportunity to help them explore their interests. This exploration can assist youth in deciding what they might like to pursue as a career and where natural abilities or talents may lie.

A Caldwell County 4-H Club learned about meteorology and television production careers during a tour last fall at WBTV in Charlotte.

A Caldwell County 4-H Club learned about meteorology and television production careers during a tour last fall at WBTV in Charlotte.

To start, it is important to learn about how children and teenagers see themselves – to pause and reflect. Youth can write down or talk about words that describe themselves. Questions such as “What do you like about yourself?” and “What is your favorite subject in school?” or “What skills do you have?” can be good starting points.

Next, parents or others can ask about their hopes and expectations for the future before creating an action plan. A simple plan of action would note how a child can explore career options of interest. It would answer questions about what local opportunities exist and what research could be done on careers. The age and limitations of children should also be taken into consideration.

Some young people easily know what they want to do. For most, though, the path is not a straight line from point “A” to point “B.”

After some conversation, it is important for youth to get involved in hands-on learning in their areas of interest. They also should also be practicing skills that can serve them well in any profession. Examples of life skills employers look for when hiring are leadership, communication, such as public speaking, and working well with others. The whole package is important to a child’s development.

These geology specimens were on display and part of a scavenger hunt during a 4-H field trip to Appalachian State University. Geologists spoke about their field’s work and education during a tour and hands-on laboratory activities.

These geology specimens were on display and part of a scavenger hunt during a 4-H field trip to Appalachian State University. Geologists spoke about their field’s work and education during a tour and hands-on laboratory activities.

Youth in elementary school can be encouraged to love learning as preparation for later career exploration. Their interests can change quickly, but it is healthy to soak up new information and explore learning through hands-on activities at these ages. Reading skills should be emphasized during this period, and books can be windows into a variety of career paths.

In middle school and on into high school, youth can benefit from job shadowing during summer months and compiling research about careers, such as education needed, job market predictions and information on personalities and career fields, and turning it into reports or poster presentations. Youth.gov is a U.S. government website with youth-oriented career information and statistics.

Education systems often think about career exploration, and school counselors may offer career programming. Career programming is activities, presentations or events designed to have youth learn and think about potential careers.

A 2012 study of out-of-school time programs by Kathryn Hynes, Kaylin M. Greene and Nicole Constance, all three human development experts from Pennsylvania State University, found career programming fits into three main categories: career exploration, work experiences and substantive or concrete theme programming.

To explain, career exploration is aimed to “help youth understand what careers are available and what skills and experience those careers require,” said Hynes, Greene and Constance in their report titled Helping Youth Prepare for Careers.

“Work experiences give youth actual job experience, whether the work is done in the community or at the program,” they continued. “Substantive theme programming teaches youth occupation-specific or topic-specific skills and knowledge in such areas as technology, urban agriculture, or construction.”

A local example of career exploration and substantive theme programming is the Caldwell Agriculture Expo in March. On March 28, Caldwell County Schools and community partners welcome the public to come interact with agriculture professionals.

Outside of formal education, organizations like 4-H provides career programming for the whole child, not just academically. Those life skills previously mentioned can be developed through 4-H activities and contests.

Whether youth want to be farmers, sowing seeds and studying soil; problem-solving nurses who work with care and compassion; or artists, creating and thinking independently, spending time with each of the three career programming areas – career exploration, work experiences and substantive theme programming – can help narrow down a long (or short) list of interests to give them a clearer view of what is involved in related jobs.

At a 4-H farm-to-fork summer program, Eli Snyder, Wilkes County horticulture Extension Agent, takes questions from youth about vegetable crops being grown.

At a 4-H farm-to-fork summer program, Eli Snyder, Wilkes County horticulture Extension Agent, takes questions from youth about vegetable crops being grown.

More information about 4-H and career programming is available online at caldwell.ces.ncsu.edu. Caldwell County 4-H is a member agency of United Way, and it enthusiastically supports its partnerships.