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When is the right time to start learning about careers?

Welcome to the next article in our National Careers Week series – the theme for 2022 is “Career. More than just a job” and we’ve taken an in-depth look into what your career actually is, and what you can do to take control over it.

Today, we think about when we should start teaching about careers, and in other posts we’ll look at:

  1. The difference between career, job, and work
  2. What it means to be a lifelong learner
  3. What you can do with your core skills
  4. When things go wrong and how to handle career chaos
  5. What is digital literacy and what does it mean for your career?
  6. How to find career-related information you can rely on


The reality is that children start learning about the world of work before they can even speak. We give infants soft-toy hammers, dress them in baby high vis, and proclaim on their onesies that they’re a future lawyer/doctor/insert-prestigious-career-here.

Children pick up a huge amount of information about work and what it means to work before they hit school, but they learn from what they see. They associate work with the kinds of things they see their parents doing, and with the kind of person they think they want to be when they grow up.

All of this early learning is done spontaneously – it’s not planned, or directed. In many cases, children are presented with the same kinds of expectations that they had 30 years ago – boys get colouring in pictures of soldiers and doctors, and girls get models and hairdressers.

Which means children can form all sorts of ideas about their career years before they get any kind of formal education in careers and the world of work. The Work Studies curriculum starts in Year 9.


When should we start learning about careers?


Students should be able to access relevant, up-to-date and engaging information about jobs and careers the whole way through their education. This means even early childhood teachers need to know about the kinds of jobs their young charges could expect to work in, so that we’re not embedding outdated ideas.

We need to be teaching our children that there are lots of different types of work, and that they could work full-time, part-time, or as a casual or flexible worker. They may work at night or on the weekend, and they could work in shops or kitchens, as well as in offices and factories.

Young people should be aware that work is just one part of their adult life, and that they’ll need to balance work with other things, like hobbies, exercise, caring for family, and study.

Young people also need to know that people work in other jobs that they may not get to see first-hand. Students in highly urbanised areas, for example, may not get to see that people work in manufacturing, or agriculture, and are less likely to consider these careers as a result.


How do we teach for a future that we can’t see?


The reality is that we don’t know what jobs will exist in 5 years, and have no way of knowing what will be in demand in 10 or 15 years when today’s kindy kids finish their education.

Teach First commissioned a report based on the UK experience and found that giving children early access to a wide range of experiences can form a solid foundation for lifelong career development. Schools reported a number of barriers to providing career-related learning in primary schools, including a lack of funding and formal staffing arrangements to support quality learning experiences.

Many schools already incorporate career-based learning into their curriculums, for example some hold events where parents come and talk about their jobs, and others role play different jobs within a classroom setting. Formalising the process and providing teachers with the skills to connect learning to careers will help accelerate these initiatives and enhance existing learning experiences.


Where to from here?


Schools should start by critically analysing the career-related messages they currently deliver in their classrooms. They should be assessing to see if their teaching embeds outdated stereotypes, or if it embraces new ideas and thinking about the world of work.

Engaging local community is a highly effective way to increase connections between learning and careers, but can be time consuming and is often left to individual teachers to arrange. Delegating this task to one of the school leadership or administration team could increase engagement and coordinate a whole-of-school approach.

Learning about careers is a lifelong process, and even careers advisors won’t have heard of every job that exists, but we can give children somewhere to start.


Next up


Next in the National Careers Week Series we’ll check out how to find career-related information.


More articles

Pondering Careers - the Rule of Seven

Pondering Careers – Edition 48 – Throwing mud and the Rule of Seven

Pondering Careers - Edition 47 - Where I find LMI

Pondering Careers – Edition 47 – Where I find LMI

Pondering Careers – Edition 46 – Unusual Career Conversations

Pondering Careers – Edition 45 – Insights from the Subject Selection Calculator

Pondering Careers – Edition 44 – You need these quotes about primary career education

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