As school league tables show top performing schools place a big emphasis on career guidance. Ellie O’Byrne has been looking at how parents can help children find their passion
FOR teenagers, the world is filled with a bewildering array of possibilities. They are probably more concerned with Ask.fm then asking for careers guidance. Yet at this time of hormonal and emotional upheaval, we expect young people to make informed career choices that will affect them for years to come. No wonder, then, that one in seven students drop out of college in Ireland. Of 1,400 students surveyed by campus.ie, 51% had considered dropping out, while 23.3% felt that their course wasn’t what they were expecting.
Dearbhla Kelly is a careers guidance counsellor from Co Donegal whose new book, Career Coach, is a timely publication aimed at the parents of young people faced with these choices, be it after the Junior Cert, when many teens review their subject choices for the leaving cert, or towards the end of the senior cycle, when CAO applications are made.
She says as a concerned parent, it’s important to maintain a sense of perspective to avoid putting too much pressure on your child.
“I think we should avoid the words ‘for the rest of your life’. The reality is that nowadays the average person changes career two or three times in their lifetime,” says Dearbhla.
Katy May O’Sullivan is a confident, articulate 16-year-old who is entering Transition Year in Ashton School in Cork. She has already set her sights on a third-level education in graphic design and digital media. She acknowledges not everyone her age is so grounded.
Katy May O’Sullivan
“I have one friend who wants to be an actress, but she also wants to be an environmental lawyer. So yeah, it can be difficult to decide,” she says.
Katy has been involved with Comhairle na nÓg since first year, and last year used her web design skills to help develop www.workwonders.ie, an online resource for young people offering career advice, tips on getting work experience, and interviews with successful people in various fields.
Despite her impressive levels of common sense, though, she still battles with subject choices and that can cause friction; she wants to take music for Leaving Cert, and her mother, Jane O’Sullivan, is concerned about her taking up an entirely new subject and putting herself under too much pressure.
Jane is a mature student, half way through her PhD at UCC. She laughs when asked if she was as driven at 16 as Katy is. “I was really immature compared to Katy, but most of all, I really didn’t think I was very capable,” she says.
Jane struggled with dyslexia in school which affected her academic confidence. “I left school thinking I was a bit dim, which is so sad. At 35, I was astonished to find out how much I loved third level. I really went for it and I got a scholarship both for my MA and my PhD.”
Providing an empowering message for your teens by avoiding limiting statements like ‘you’ll never make money doing that,’ or ‘no-one in our family has ever been a doctor’ is a cornerstone of Dearbhla Kelly’s approach.
Some parents think they’re sheltering their children from having their hopes dashed with limiting statements, but Dearbhla’s message is you help your children more in the long term by teaching them to explore all options and to be resilient and adaptable, instead of sending out messages that undermine their capabilities.
Jane agrees. “I tell Katy May that she can do absolutely anything, as long as she works hard and sets goals,” she says. “I wish somebody had told me that when I was 16!”
Tristan Kilian, 18, and Luca, 16, are brothers. Tristan skipped Transition Year, completed his Leaving Cert this year and chose to go straight into the world of work; he got a job with a multinational straight from school and is putting in a 39-hour week in phone support.
“It’s a pretty big step up from school, but hopefully it’s just for a year before I go to college,” he says.
He wants to study mechanical engineering, but for now, the hard graft of holding down a demanding and often tedious job is teaching him valuable lessons. “At least from this I’ll hopefully learn how important it is to end up doing a job that I actually want to do, instead of being stuck in something I have to do.”
Luca also skipped Transition Year, and is going into sixth year in Carrigaline Community School.
Tristan Kilian, 18, and Luca Kilian, 16 (left) skipped transition year.
“Everyone was saying TY was a waste of time. I just didn’t want to do it,” he says. He also chose new subjects, and is studying geography, accounting, chemistry and biology as his options for Leaving Cert, even though he’s not certain of his plans for college. “I’ll probably try and do a year of work too,” he says.
His fasttrack approach is causing his parents to worry. “For Luca, I feel we made a mistake skipping fourth year; he’ll be finished at 17. Just from the maturity point of view, I worry that he’s too young for the Leaving Cert,” his mother, Kerstin says.
It’s also important for parents to remember that college is just one option, Dearbhla says.
“There are lots of new apprenticeships coming on board,” she says. “We need to start valuing trades and skills; our world doesn’t work without them. Even if you do opt for college, you need to develop your practical skills too by getting part-time work or volunteering. It’s vital to couple academic learning with skills in the real world.”
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