Careers by Default or by Design?

Have you ever come home from a long day at work and asked yourself how your life has become what it is today? Have you ever looked at the clock only to realise that the work day ended hours ago but you are still hustling in the office with a never-ending to-do list? Have you ever found yourself really needing a vacation, but time is just not on your side? If you have answered yes to any of these questions, you may be a victim of life by career default.


In working with young people every day, I am gifted with the opportunity to witness first hand just how dangerous making 'default' career choices can be. However, before moving forward let me take you backwards for a minute. For the sake of this article, 'by default' will refer to the pre-selected career choices that young people tend to make based on the advice from their role models. If you were to meet me in-person, have a careers session with me or even participate in one of my career workshops, you would often hear me refer to 'default career choices' as the 'autopilot career choices'. Both mean the same. They are making career choices that tend to be the traditional 'safe choices' like engineering, law, medicine and education.


Putting the 'default' to the side, this article was written as food for thought for those who work with young people, are parenting young people or are potentially role-models for young people. Whomever you are, this article aims to inspire you to pay attention to how young people are making career choices and to challenge them to think 'outside the norm' rather than encouraging them to follow the mass and to make choices that may have been suitable for their elders but not necessarily for their future lives as professionals. If you disagree, just ask yourself...are you still using technology that existed when you were a teenager? If not, then why would you want to encourage young teenagers today to follow the career paths that were once in-demand and have now potentially been redeveloped or potentially will be replaced by AI? There are so many factors that future career success is impacted by and yet we are still not empowering teenagers with this knowledge. The great debate remains at a standstill; the education system continues to teach academic content that leaders in the world of work argue is irrelevant to the skills required for future talent. Who is right? Who isn't? This depends on the view of the 'bigger picture'. What is the aim of education? In fact, I often refer to this as 'what is the ROI of expensive education'? For most students today, the concept that tertiary education and degrees are their measure for achieving career success is still rampant in high schools across the western world and in my experience, it is the number one reason why teenagers want to go to university. They believe that the degree will guarantee them a better job. Perhaps this was the case back in my time as a student and as the child of immigrant parents whose dream it was to see their children achieve the career success that they migrated from their countries to my new birth country, but how true is this in today's current economy and in looking forward at the future of careers for the youth tomorrow? In doing my research, I came across some interesting figures. With roughly 1250 universities world-wide and according to the university statistics from 2017/2018, approximately 458,520 international students attended university in the UK alone and they are expected to graduate by 2021 with the hope of job security. Sadly, we know that 'job security' is no longer the guarantee that it once promised university graduates in the past. The hope for employment in their desired industries will require graduates to recognise how their transferable skills, continued persistence and striving to stand out above the competition work alongside their degrees AND the demand for employment in their sector which is also affected by global factors such as politics, economy, technology and industry growth. 


If you are still sceptical about empowering young people with new guidelines toward career success and continue to encourage young people to choose career pathways by default, just do the maths, universities are rolling out an overwhelming number of graduates with similar degrees every year. For some careers, the degree is the basic entry requirement towards being considered for a job interview but not the final decision maker for getting the job. There is a lot more to offer a potential employer and the big question is; are we preparing young people for employability or for the default careers because they were once 'our dream career' or perhaps the career that 'our generation' strived for? Are we educating future leaders to shop around for potential careers that lead towards thriving employable careers and to investigate their potential career growth moving forward? What is the R.O.I of their academic pathway? 


My greatest joy along this journey I call 'Empowerment for Teens' is the ability to challenge the status quo and help the future leaders question their career choices, discover potential career aspirations and take ownership of the career choices that they will follow through on in the next years of their lives. My role is to share the voice least heard and possibly least accepted in the traditional sense of career discovery in secondary education and sometimes it feels a lonely task but I could not imagine sitting silently on the side-line watching career potential being lost because we were not offering young people the career empowerment that they deserve to be offered. 


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