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Helping your child choose their career

how to help child with career

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Helping your child with their future career plans

As their parent or carer, you are likely to be the single biggest influence on your child’s thoughts and feelings about their future career. You are reading this because you care deeply about them having a happy and productive life. It is really important that you are aware of the influence you have and that you try your best to make this positive, supportive and empowering rather than negative, restricting and disempowering.

A good parent helps their child the most when they:

  • have a good general understanding of the options available
  • listen carefully to their child’s views without being judgmental or critical
  • are open to new ideas and possibilities
  • encourage them to explore all their options

How can I help my child with their career plans?

These are some possible ways to consider:

  • Talk to them from time to time about possible careers they might be interested in and why they appeal. Don’t make a big deal out of it. There will be plenty of opportunities for such an exchange of ideas that crop up naturally while you are doing something else. This way it won't seem forced or patronising to your child.
  • Encourage them to take an interest in the occupations or past careers of grown up family members and other adults who they come into contact with.
  • Ask them about the help available in their school. Is there a careers library? Are there careers programs they can access on the school’s computers? Are there careers lessons or special sessions related to the world of work, job applications etc?
  • Some schools arrange for their students to complete a career interests questionnaire. Check whether this will happen with your child. If so, it is an excellent opportunity to start a natural, unforced conversation about their future options.
  • Help them to explore the possible employers, apprenticeship providers and further education courses available in your local area. You should be able to find lots of useful information on these things on the web site of your local council. Keep an eye out for things like open days (at colleges and training organisations) and careers fairs held locally.
  • Encourage them to participate in out of school activities. These are valuable in themselves and will help greatly later on in giving a good impression to people like employers or course tutors.
  • If a careers adviser attends parents evenings take advantage of this opportunity to gather useful information and broaden out your child’s career thinking. They will probably find this a little embarrassing so hang back and give them the chance to ask their own questions in their own way.
  • Encourage your child to seek advice when necessary from a careers adviser.
  • Encourage them to prepare properly for this discussion.
  • Check whether the school has a formal work experience programme during Key Stage 4 or in the sixth form. If not, check out the possibility of arranging something yourself with work colleagues or friends.
Remember that career choice is a personal decision. Do not try to steer your child to a particular career because you think you know best or because it is a job you might like.

children choosing a career

Is professional support available?

This is a bit complicated and largely depends on where you live. In England the former careers service for pupils attending state schools has been abolished. Instead the government have handed responsibility for careers advice to secondary schools. As a consequence, there is a great variation in the quality and quantity of the support available between different schools. If you are lucky enough to have a head teacher who takes the responsibility seriously your child will have access to a decent careers education programme backed up with individual guidance from a qualified careers adviser. In practice many young people do not get this level of support!

To supplement the support offered by schools the government has created an organisation called the National Careers Service which offers online support for young people aged 11-19 via text/email, a free phone telephone advice line, web chat and on their web site:

In the other countries of the UK similar services are offered with the addition of face to face guidance from trained careers advisers.

Scotland -

Wales -

Northern Ireland -

Isle of Man -,-training-and-careers/careers-guidance/

Channel Islands - (Guernsey) (Jersey)

careers advice for children with special needs

What if my child has a learning and/or physical disability?

If you live in England then the warning above still applies. However, the government has issued guidance to schools which expects them to give top priority to supporting young people with special educational needs and other disabilities. This means that you can expect your child to receive individualised support from a specialist careers adviser starting no later than Year 9.

The nature of the advice and help provided varies enormously depending on the exact nature and severity of the young person’s disability.

Schools generally have good support arrangements for pupils with special needs including well established systems for consulting and keeping in touch with parents and carers.

Schools and colleges have a statutory duty (under section 42A of the Education Act 1997) to provide pupils from Year 8 until Year 13 with independent careers guidance.  This duty applies to all schools including pupil referral units (PRUs), academies and free schools.  In the case of colleges of further education, the duty is extended to the age of 25 for those students with EHC plans.

Statutory guidance to local authorities, schools and colleges (the SEND Code of Practice) requires them to have arrangements that:

"... raise the career aspirations of their SEN students and broaden their employment horizons. They should use a wide range of imaginative approaches, such as taster opportunities, work experience, mentoring, exploring entrepreneurial options, role models and inspiring speakers."
After your child has made the move from primary to secondary education you should ask for a meeting with the school’s special needs coordinator – often referred to as the SENCO. During this discussion you should clarify the exact arrangements for providing careers advice and ask for the contact telephone number of the specialist careers adviser.

Encourage and support – but don’t dictate!

Support from parents is very important when key decisions such as subject choices are being made. While it may not always feel that way, young people do take notice of advice offered to them by their parents or carers. Just keep in mind that your child’s decisions should be based on their personal interests, aspirations and abilities. It should not be about you running their life for them.

The more you know about the information, advice and guidance that is available and where it can be accessed the better. Don’t be afraid to contact your school/college if you have any questions.

To find out more about the career planning process move on to The Basics (how to decide).