Case study: Uniting parents and students on careers journey

Vanessa Perrin is more plugged into what’s happening in the world of work than most. The careers adviser 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.

High school girls in conversation with a careers advisor
Image: Good advice, honest brokerage and targeted engagement are critical to ensuring successful career conversations with students and their parents.

Her experiences give Ms Perrin 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,” Ms Perrin said, citing a German academic’s paper on the subject at a recent conference.

“Twenty 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 to helping students process these projections is to ease them into the subject, Ms Perrin said. Students at Mullumbimby High School are encouraged to think of their career as a journey—one that will require them to negotiate various turns and detours.

Engaging students in the career conversation is one thing, but how do you overcome parents’ biases towards university when their children are clearly cut out for another career pathway?

“I’ve worked with students who definitely don’t want to be here,” said Ms Perrin.

By way of example she mentioned a smart Year 12 student who had a number of incomplete subjects and faced not qualifying for the HSC. Ms Perrin said she sat down with the student and parents and put the situation in terms everyone could understand.

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

In the end, the student had to complete six assessments to maintain their eligibility for the HSC.

Mariane Benitez, the careers adviser from Miller Technology High School in Sydney’s south west, faces the same challenges as Vanessa Perrin, in addition to the difficulties associated with communicating with a large cohort of parents from non-English-speaking backgrounds.

More than half of the student body at Miller Technology High are from refugee families, many of them from Iraq, and most of the parents do not speak English. School Learning and Support Officers (SLSO), who help with translations at the school, play a very important role in facilitating communications with Miller’s parent body. However, overcoming parents’ scepticism about vocational career pathways remains a challenge.

“A university education is highly regarded in Iraqi culture, so the perceptions around vocational pathways are definitely a barrier,” Ms Benitez said.

To overcome parents’ biases, Miller staff focus on education and outreach. The school’s subject selection nights, which are presented in English, Arabic and Vietnamese - and for the first time this year, in Farsi - are a great example of that approach in action. So too are the school’s many other information nights which serve to showcase vocational career pathways, such as School Based Apprenticeships and Traineeships (SBAT).

“Every time we do an information night on SBATs, parents always want to know more,” Ms Benitez said. “We really open parents’ eyes to the opportunities that are available to students.”

If there’s a lesson to be drawn from the work that Vanessa Perrin and Mariane Benitez are doing in their schools at opposite ends of the state, it’s that good advice, honest brokerage and targeted engagement are critical to ensuring successful ‘career conversations’ with students and their parents.

Return to top of page Back to top