Talking careers with parents

We talk to Vanessa Perrin, Careers Adviser at Mullumbimby High School, about the work she does to guide parents and students on the careers journey.

05 June 2020

Counselling students and parents on career choices

Vanessa Perrin is more plugged in to what’s happening in the world of work than most. The colourful Careers Advisor at Mullumbimby High School is a former HR professional who worked in the private sector, and then TAFE, before transitioning to a school-based role. It’s a realm of experience that gives Vanessa a 360 degree perspective on the career question, although she’s the first to admit that we’re currently living through a period of tremendous change.

“We’ve gone from talking about having seven careers over the course of our working lives to preparing students to have up to 20 different careers,” says Vanessa, recalling a German academic’s paper on the subject at a recent conference.

“20 different careers is a huge thing for kids to get their heads around, and then there’s the fact that lots of those jobs don’t even exist yet.”

The key, according to Vanessa, to helping students process these projections is to ease them into the subject. Students at Mullumbimby High School are encouraged to think of their career as a journey—one that will require them to negotiate various hills, turns and detours. And while some will inevitably go on to have careers punctuated by vastly different jobs, others will pursue several different jobs in one general area or industry.

But engaging students in the career conversations is one thing. How do you have the careers conversation with parents? And more to the point, how do you overcome parents’ biases towards university when their children are clearly cut out for another career path?

“I’ve worked with students who definitely don’t want to be here,” says Vanessa, before going on to describe a successful intervention.

The case involved a bright Year 12 student who, having received a number of N-Award letters, ran the risk of not qualifying for the HSC. Vanessa sat down with the student and parents and put the situation in terms everyone could understand.

Taking ownership

“I said ‘You can decide your future, or you can have someone else decide it for you,’” recalls Vanessa.

In the end, the student only had to complete six assessments to maintain their eligibility for the HSC. Other cases aren’t as straightforward.

“I get lots of calls from parents. Sometimes I’m asked to help get students back on track, but we deal with these matters on a case-by-case basis,” says Vanessa.

In general, Vanessa’s approach amounts to giving parents the information that will allow them to support their children through the process. Vanessa distributes career information via the school newsletter and the various information nights she hosts over the year. And recently, Vanessa set up a career-focused Facebook page for students and parents where she posts everything from casual job openings in the area to opportunities with various training outfits, employers and tertiary institutions. Ultimately, there’s only so much that Vanessa—or any other Careers Advisor—can do to steer the career conversation.

“I’ve had parents deny their kids vocational opportunities that would have been perfect for them, and that’s a shame,” says Vanessa.

“But while I’m very happy to provide as much information as I can, and to help them see the pros and cons of various options, I can’t tell a parent that a student should pursue a certain career.”

In the end, creating an opportunity for the conversation to happen with the right information to hand makes a huge difference, and that's where this pilot program comes in.

  • Student engagement and participation
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