School Careers Seminars
Published in the Insight Section of Cape Times. By Ann Werner - Industrial Psychologist & Career Facilitator A few lucky people discover their chosen careers at an early age and never look back. For most of us, though, it involves much soul searching, research, job shadowing, networking, and liaison with others in potentially attractive professions, and it is here that the economic chasm between our schools is most marked. This article is intended to make people aware of the huge gap in opportunities between the “haves” and the “have-nots”, and to attempt to galvanise those in formal and informal employment to bring career options to as many learners as possible. From the outset, it is important to note that it is the responsibility of the individual to find a career that suits him or her: career determination should never be prescriptive, giving someone else the onerous task of ‘dictating’ what it is that they feel an individual should be doing with his / her life. Prior to this, however, it is about getting to the essence of who one really is – a tough decision for many, let alone teenagers in a school context who have had little insight into the ‘real world’. It is therefore vital to put structures in place to determine an individual’s skills and proficiencies, interests and passions, and challenges and concerns, not only for fledging career thoughts, but also for tertiary education choices, if indeed such further education is indicated. This is especially true within our shifting South African context. Normal distribution, as depicted by the recently topical bell curve, indicates that some learners will get straight A’s, some won’t get any A’s at all, and the vast majority will fall between these two extremes, just the way that it was meant to be: each individual offers unique attributes and characteristics which populate this bell curve and cater for the myriad of different career options available. It is therefore critical for learners to understand their own characteristics and their uniqueness, and realise that each one of them potentially has a role to fill in the work place: this will go far in developing their confidence, but will also provide essential insight into their career determination. But, how does an individual get to that place of greater knowledge of self and become aware of opportunities in the market place? And how does one know that the decisions being made are the best ones? For the fortunate few, a useful way of beginning this career search starts with career evenings organised by their schools, which usually cater generously and comprehensively for their learners: a standard meeting would attract representatives from the various tertiary institutions who advertise academic options available to learners; organisations offering special programmes, learnerships and scholarships; companies selling GAP year opportunities; and established professionals, or past pupils who are studying towards certain qualifications. Learners are encouraged to chat to these bodies to establish where their interests lie. Many then go on to “job shadow” a trained professional for a day or two, giving them additional, more practical insight into a chosen career. But, many schools don’t organise such events. Many schools can’t. I have the privilege of talking at schools all over the peninsula, and towards the end of last year I spent time with a group of learners at a school on the Cape Flats: their school has no library; there is no designated career counsellor, or in fact any staff member to manage a career office/centre; there are no job shadowing opportunities other than self-initiated; and access to the internet for career research is only sporadically available. The school’s ability to provide any real career information is therefore severely limited and although the teachers do what they can to create career awareness and private enterprise has, to a small extent, begun to offer learnerships in unskilled trades, learners have little exposure to the wide range of available careers. Of course this high school is just one of many hundreds of schools without adequate resources, but it illustrates clearly the limited career and development opportunities available to the bulk of our future workforce. In light of President Zuma’s attempts to make tertiary education available to all, surely the time has come for national or regional authorities to put together a two- or three-day conference for the thousands of learners who simply have no access to potential career opportunities. Actually seeing what choices are out there would hopefully provide learners with new goals and a desire for self-improvement. It is incumbent on every one of us to redress the imbalances of the past by developing those ‘who have not had’ and encouraging them to join us in our quest for excellence. Or as Madiba so succinctly says: “Overcoming poverty is not a gesture of charity. It is an act of justice. It is the protection of a fundamental human right, the right to dignity and a decent life”.