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Is it ever too early to introduce children to the world of work? No, and here’s why...
I recently had the chance to volunteer at a careers fair for nine and ten-year-olds, an experience which left me ruminating on the following thought – is it ever too early for children to begin interacting with the world of work?
I know what you'll likely be thinking – “The world of work? At ten years old? But should we not just allow kids to be kids?” – but bear with me! Because, whilst children understand that they need to go to school, do they consciously make the connection that their education is in preparation for their prospective lifelong learning journeys? And when they hear the terms ‘job’ and ‘work’, do they understand the opportunity that lies ahead of them in the form of a cornucopia of career pathways and job roles?
I believe there’s an argument that these types of events could help us to build children’s understanding, curiosity and excitement about the passions that they wish to go on and follow over the course of their lifetime, as well as the core skills that will help them to get there – here’s why.
Piquing curiosity in careers
The Year 5 careers fair that I attended was an informal event, and one which I was invited to take part in as a mum to my nine-year-old daughter – the primary school had asked us parents and carers to volunteer an hour of our time to discuss our jobs roles and answer their career-based questions.
Between us, we offered a rich mixture of insights into varying careers, as alongside me was a farmer, a chef, and even an actor. I was impressed with how the children – who were exceptionally well mannered – had spent time preparing what they wanted to ask us “grown-ups” about our jobs, and as a result, there were two key things that I noted.
Firstly, it turns out that answering the children’s questions wasn’t as easy as I first thought. What did inspire me to move into the world of human relations and working with people? Well, it was my empathy for others, enthusiasm towards learning and professional development and genuine desire to help make ‘work’ great.
In sharing this with the children, I highlighted the importance of following your interests first, then also becoming aware of strengths when navigating through secondary school. Do we make it clear that this is the foundation on which to later build transferable skills in a fulfilling career?
Formulating core skills
Transferable skills are core skills that carry you through your life from one job to another – everything from presenting to active listening, and networking to communicating clearly. Although we begin to organically develop these skills in our day-to-day lives, it can be overwhelming when we’re first asked to put them into practice in high-pressure scenarios such as during a presentation or at our first job interview.
As such, an opportunity like this careers fair is a great chance for children to begin building the foundations and exploring these skills in practice in a comfortable, safe and creative environment that brings children and their families together.
For example, I could sense one child’s nervousness as they approached and asked me “how did you choose which career you wanted?”, followed by a clear sense of pride at being confident enough to read their question aloud! They then listened keenly and asked follow-up questions to my answers, exercising their speaking, listening and networking skills in a matter of minutes.
The fine-tuning of these skills becomes even more important when you consider that it is one of the few skillsets that are unique to being human and can therefore not be replicated by AI, as we approach a period whereby AI is looking set to replace so many individual jobs across the spectrum.
Plus, transferable skills are critical in an age where non-linear careers (that cross many different paths and sectors) are more prominent than ever. If an individual wanted to switch from being a nurse to becoming a marketing professional, for example, then it’ll be their transferable skills that will be key in carrying them from one job role to another.
My takeaways and recommendations
In writing this, I’m reminded of a WorldSkills UK event I attended in May that really brought to the surface the huge responsibility of employers to adjust their expectations of young talent who are entering the workforce, who often have little to no work experience and who haven't had the opportunities to have practised their interview skills.
Whilst securing work experience is a much larger issue, if we haven’t prepared young people with a strong set of transferable skills in order to approach these high-pressure situations, then we’ll lose sight of future skills. If every employer partnered with a school or college to address these concerns, we'd perhaps see the building of mutually beneficial initiatives for both learners, employers and industries.
Because that’s what it comes back to – ensuring no learner is left behind. I came away from the careers event feeling utterly inspired by the children and their enthusiasm which to me, is another key takeaway from all of this. Let’s continue to support children to follow their passions, then enable them to make personal choices – whether academic or vocational – that match their values, spirit and ever-growing skillset.
And so, I return to my initial question – is it ever too early for us to begin interacting with the world of work? I believe not. Let’s connect and share our privileged responsibility of preparing young children for entering, and leading forward, the future world of work. Whilst in education, children are indeed crafting their futures through learning.
NCFE is a proud sponsor of this year's Youth Employment Week. To access resources and content that will help young people on their journey into work, visit the Youth Employment UK website. You can also discover our top tips on preparing for your first job in our recent blog.
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