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Should you have to start exploring careers in year 7?

James Davis

Careers Commentator
A new Victorian government initiative has students exploring career prospects as early as year 7. Should this really be the case?

Your garden variety 12 year old is likely neither worldly nor particularly fond of gardens. Is it a good idea then to have them make career decisions before they’ve discovered books? The condescending tone I’ve laid out thus far might have you believe the answer is ‘no,’ but there’s quite a compelling case to be made to the contrary. The Age recently reported on the Victorian government’s plans to implement mandatory career education, to which the response has been positive.

Teachers and students have expressed their discontent with the stages at which current career education is undergone, asserting that it’s simply too late by the time it reaches student ears. “It starts too late,” year 11 student Wren Gillet told the paper. “Students are choosing subjects for breadth, rather than depth.” Indeed, a breadth of fresh air is the name of the game right up until high school under current state curriculums. Students take a broad platter of unrelated subjects to cover all bases, but as keen baseball fans know, platters are as much a part of baseball as baseballs are in catering.

There are a number of advantages to this early approach. For instance, starting early allows more time for decision-making. Students may not have the experience to yet make a comprehensive informed decision, but they can importantly begin asking questions of teachers, parents and mentors. Furthermore, they can learn what questions to ask, consequently improving the quality of their career choices. It’s also far easier to choose subjects and analyse areas of improvement when there’s a clear goal on the horizon; students wishing to become engineers can start polishing up their algebra sooner rather than later when it becomes increasingly more difficult. Aspiring musicians can pick up their instrument of choice while their brains still have a relatively high degree of neuroplasticity. Time seems forever short when beginning career decisions at years 10, 11 or 12, so starting in year 7 could make all the difference in lifting some of that pressure and anxiety.

As is the case for any seemingly fantastic idea, there are some foreseeable disadvantages. Some year 7 students may not be emotionally ready for confronting the prospect of adult life, for instance. They might not be mentally ready for the gravity of this decision they’re being asked to entertain, even if it isn’t yet a definitive commitment. It’s entirely possible that after all the guidance and advice, they simply become more anxious and indecisive. The decision itself when they finally get to year 12 could be made all the more difficult; they would have been weighing opportunity costs for all these different career paths since they got to high school, giving them advanced understanding of just how little they know. This may be speculation, but that doesn’t make it exempt from consideration.

It’s also possible that becoming set on one career path so early could be disastrous. Science of the last decade reveals that brain development continues all the way up to age 25. This means that 12 year old deciding to be an engineer and taking subjects accordingly could well find during an engineering internship at 20 they simply don’t like their choice. How are they to know, after all? It’s possible the anxiety caused by rendering this decision unto them would be a pointless expense.

All things considered however, imposing career awareness on students this young seems to be a good idea. Even if it’s an even more anxiety-ridden choice at age 12 than at 17, it’s arguably better to face it now and make a more considered decision later than to rush the process. This new system would allow students to become more comfortable in their choice of subjects and experiment with different ideas.

The most valuable asset this provides them with is time, up to three or four years more to think about future careers. Even if aforementioned concerns prove to all be true, 17 year olds still tread the same hazards as 12 year olds in that their brains are still developing, along with their choices. If uncertainty and anxiety are both certain, then more time to counteract them is most likely a good thing.