How grandparents influence kids’ career choices

Grandparents can have a big impact on kids – their beliefs, attitudes, choices, thinking, self-belief. And nowhere are these more important than in the area of careers.

Children form their beliefs about jobs very early, including what they might aspire to be and do, and what is relevant and appropriate. Depending on circumstances, these beliefs may expand options or limit choices, thereby having a lifelong impact. For children growing up in a changing and uncertain world, this is a serious matter.

Research indicates that childhood experiences affect identity, attitudes and ideas about work, available occupations and appropriate options. Plus, there is evidence that young people’s career expectations are often unrealistic, poorly informed, and heavily shaped by gender.

The working world of the baby boomer is different from what grandchildren will experience. There’s a risk that the suggestions you make, based on your experience, will not match today’s reality. My free ebook, Grandparents’ Guide to Career Learning for Kids, provides a summary of the contemporary working world and of research that hints at what the future may be like.

The material is deliberately presented in a general fashion so that you can adapt it to your personal circumstances. By considering this material you can play a role in broadening and raising your grandchildren’s aspirations, building confidence and motivation, countering stereotypes, building an understanding of the value of education, and improving social-emotional skills. You can help them identify positive things about themselves and their achievements, what they are good at, how to make judgements about who to listen to when making choices, and how to compare the pros and cons of different choices so that they can make progress.

Included in the book are these chapters:

  • A brief explanation of some career terms
  • How the world of work has changed
  • What we think and say matters
  • What skills people will need for an uncertain future
  • Why social skills are so important
  • Why gender is important
  • A range of literacies: science, numeracy, digital, media, financial, civics, health and wellbeing, arts and culture
  • How to talk to people about the work they do

Career management skills are essential

Managing your career is now seen as an important set of skills, attitudes and knowledge that we need in order to make sound choices throughout life. This process is much broader than choosing subjects and courses, although these are still important decisions. Key points to understand about managing your career are:

  • Careers often develop in unintentional ways and can change multiple times.
  • Managing a career is not a simple process and is a lifelong journey.
  • People’s life, learning and work opportunities are influenced by personal circumstances and characteristics across the lifespan. These include family, community and cultural values, geographic, economic and social circumstances, age, gender, ability/disability, plus unpredictable events.
  • Managing careers is an active process that involves learning a set of skills.
  • People need to actively engage in learning throughout life.

Social skills are important

In addition to environmental and economic challenges, societies are also facing social challenges. Communities are being reshaped by increasing social and cultural diversity. In large parts of the world inequalities are widening, conflict and instability are increasing. While young people need to prepare for the world of work, they also need to be equipped with the skills to become active and responsible citizens, with the social and emotional skills to live and work with others.

Research reports about the future of work recognise that social skills will continue to be important and higher-level social skills will be in demand due to growth in sectors needing these skills, such as health and aged care, and the difficulty of automating these skills.

There is also plenty of evidence demonstrating the links between specific social skills and important life outcomes. They influence academic achievement, job performance, occupational attainment, health and longevity, and personal and societal well-being.

Some of the social skills you can help develop are:

  • Self-control: able to avoid distractions and focus attention on the current task, know what behaviour is accepted.
  • Emotional control: can resolve conflict and regulate temper, anger and irritation in the face of frustrations.
  • Empathy: kindness and caring for others.
  • Cooperation: finds it easy to get along with people.
  • Tolerance and respect: has friends from different backgrounds, appreciates foreign people and cultures.

How grandparents can influence career choices

There are many small steps you can take that will help build wise, respectful grandchildren who have the broadest set of options. Here are some of them.

Help grandchildren to learn about themselves by discovering their interests, values, and strengths.

Expand options by challenging rigid gender roles and identities, and by promoting attitudes that foster a mutually respectful approach to people.

Cultivate curiosity by encouraging your grandchild to explore, discover, and find out more about what a particular job or occupation involves.

Develop your grandchildren’s interests. Starting at a young age, take them to museums, art galleries, zoos, historical sites, cinemas, concerts, sporting events and the theatre. Expose them to many different things and see what they express an interest in.

Show grandchildren what you’re interested in so they can discover if they are also interested in those things. Have them sit with you while you watch a sporting event, or have them help you cook dinner. If possible, take them to work with you and show them what you do.

Encourage your grandchild to write down goals about what they would like to learn or try, then help them achieve these goals.

Perhaps one of the most valuable things to do is to let your grandkids dream, and dream big, when it comes to their future careers. Maybe they see themselves as an astronaut, a movie star, or a neurosurgeon. No matter what the goal, keep in mind it may change, and that what’s important is to encourage their interests, continued learning, and expanding horizons.

This ebook is broadly designed for young grandchildren, in the pre-school to primary school years. The suggestions offered are general, rather than targeted at a specific age or set of circumstances. This means you can adapt them to your circumstances, taking into account the many factors that make your situation unique. Given the vast range of circumstances grandparents may be in, with varying access to resources and facilities, the ideas offered are largely cost-free, requiring only some thought and effort. I invite you to take a look and explore the ideas the ebook contains.

If you belong to a book club, U3A group, or discussion group, you can explore how grandparents influence kids’ career choices using these discussion notes.

Dr Ann Villiers, career coach, writer and author, is Australia’s only Mental Nutritionist® specialising in mind and language practices that help people build flexible thinking, confident speaking and quality connections with people.