Is the response you get when asking a young person what they want to do after graduation, “I’m not sure…”? This seems to be the norm, with research showing that 70% of young people today do not have a clear vision of their career future.
Today's young people face several dilemmas—an increase in options due to a global economy, increased pace of change, as well as alternate realities on social media. Largely accorded to the advances in technology, the scope of jobs are uncertain with 85 million jobs to go in the next 5 years but 97 million more to come, according to a 2020 report released by the World Economic Forum.
As a youth worker or parent guiding a youth, you might be thinking: how do I help?
The following SOAR framework* might be helpful in guiding our young people clarify their Strengths, Options, Aspirations and Reality check.
*Based and adapted from a business framework
One of the best pieces of advice I received, was to pray and ask God for insights into a child's strengths. While interest inventories have a place (e.g. MOE Skillsportal Site), chance events as simple as diving deeper into conversation t could provide young people the best opportunities for self-discovery. As adults or mentors in their lives, you can pose honest, open questions, rather than directive statements, to help them discover inner truth, skills, gifts and values and "make meaning" of their experiences.
Through observing young adults who found their paths, educators found two key ingredients for thriving in life—a compelling purpose and supportive relationships. "A purpose" is defined by Stanford University Professor William Damon as a "deeper reason for the immediate goals and motives that drive most daily behaviour".
Take advantage of opportunities such as holiday gatherings to open a dialogue with your young people. "Why does this matter to you? Why are you doing it?" Practice the art of asking good questions and listening for their answers with an open mind. You may want to adopt a 10-2-2 rule, e.g. 10 minutes, 2 questions, 2 affirmations.
Convey your own sense of purpose and the meaning you derive from your work. In my case, conversations around current affairs at the dinner table with my Dad helped prepare me, an Economics graduate, for my first job interview with the Foreign Service.
In the last twenty years, a field of social learning “Planned Happenstance” has emerged in career counselling to help clients reframe career indecisiveness. To shift from “what if nothing interests me?” to being open to possibilities and picking up skills to seize those opportunities.
Instead of assuming a pre-planned job pathway of being a doctor/lawyer/accountant, parents could start introducing your children to potential mentoring conversations among friends, relatives and church or cell group about the work they do. How did those opportunities happen? What skills do I need to develop to get there? Brainstorm on opportunities in church or community to develop skills and meet people. What are some careers in the Bible? How different are they from the ones today?
Developing a positive outlook and curiosity about the world are two attitudes that would benefit young people to cultivate. This would shape the way they perceive and respond to challenges. Are they willing to struggle through, learn to problem-solve and find options or alternatives or view them as setbacks and roadblocks?
Experts estimate that 70% of our skills come from solving challenges, 20% from watching others, and 10% from classes/reading. Start building these attitudes in young people through asking thought-provoking questions: "If you can change something about the world, what would it be?"; "What's a challenge you faced, which you can help others going through something similar?
Get them thinking about how they can make a difference in the lives of others, as 1 Peter 4:10 said, we are called to use our gifts to serve others as faithful stewards of God’s grace.
4. Reality Check
Professor Damon suggests that it’s important to give young people a sense of agency to take responsibility for their actions. For instance, helping them think through the trade-offs between job satisfaction (people you respect, work you enjoy), lifestyle (hours worked) and income (pay off student loan).
Ian Ang, Co-founder of Secretlab, and youngest winner of EY Entrepreneur of The Year, reflected how his mother's insistence that he fill out an excel sheet with projected expenses before he could claim his school allowance helped him become pragmatic about business expenditure. Interestingly, Ian's long hours playing in eSports competition not only helped him find his tribe, but also gave him the idea to develop an ergonomic chair for eSport tournaments. This proved even more successful during the Covid-19 work-from-home season, where he found an unexpected fanbase in armchair Zoom warriors.
Finally, James Citrin, noted expert on leadership and professional success, suggests that parents resist the urge to relate “everything back to your experience which can come across as this is the road you should take”. Instead, encourage them to learn how to take ownership and read the map for themselves, despite the winding path their careers will take.
Even though these might sound like a lot to support our young people through finding their careers, it comes down to building a good relationship with them and being able to have good, and at times difficult, conversations. As believers, we also have the most important thing on our side—with the Holy Spirit as our guide, have fun, explore this exciting season together and do all things for the glory of God.
Joanne Koo, MBA (INSEAD) has a special interest is in helping people discover their strengths and aspirations to lead more a meaningful professional career and write a richer life story. Her career spans the public sector, Korn/Ferry and INSEAD. She has also taught in Masters programmes in NUS and SMU. She currently also trains aspiring career counsellors in Job and Labor Market Analysis.
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