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Information for parents: choosing career paths

3rd September 2015

Author: Chris Speedy

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A-Z on blackboard

The basics: how to decide

  1. There are three steps to successful career planning:
    Reflecting – thinking about what makes you tick. Your interests and skills. What you enjoy doing and why. Things you are less good at or don’t enjoy.
  2. Exploring – finding out about the different courses, training schemes and jobs that you could move on to.
  3. Planning – sorting the different options open to you into priority order. Deciding what steps you need to take to get more information about your favourite options, to improve your chances of success and to apply for things.
    how to make career plans

Step 1: Reflecting about themselves

Before they start planning their next move, your child will need to find out more about their own interests, likes and dislikes. They could start by answering the questions below and making their own list as they go.

What are their interests? What do they enjoy doing at school or in their spare time? For example, they might like:

  • art
  • music
  • sports
  • writing stories
  • looking after pets
  • playing computer games
  • socialising with friends


What are their skills? What kind of things are they good at, in school or their free time? For example, they might be good at:

  • science
  • maths
  • talking and writing
  • using computers
  • creative work, like painting or music
  • practical tasks, like making models or repairing things
  • researching information for a project


What are their personal qualities? What are they like as a person? For example, they could be good at:

  • managing their time and meeting deadlines
  • working well with other people
  • planning ahead
  • talking to groups of people
  • joining in discussions
  • caring for other people
  • coming up with original ideas
  • listening to other people’s views


N.B. you will hear these referred to as ‘generic’, ‘soft’ or ‘transferable’ skills. Whatever you call them, they are very high on employers’ priority list!

How do they like to learn? Different options will offer different ways of learning. For example, some education courses will be mostly classroom-based while others will involve placements with employers or practical project work.

If they enjoy classroom-based learning with exams they may want to take a general education course like A-levels in the sixth form or at college. If they prefer practical project work with hands-on work experience they will probably be interested in a vocational course like an NVQ or BTEC which are also available in sixth forms or college.

If they like the sound of learning new skills while they work and gaining qualifications for the job they are doing they may be interested in an apprenticeship, a traineeship or a job with training.

If they would rather learn step-by-step at their own pace, in a small class, while gaining some useful everyday skills, a Foundation Learning programme could be the right choice for them.

Step 2: Exploring careers

The world of work is changing all the time. To help them plan their career, they’ll need to find out more about the kind of jobs that are out there now, and which ones could be big in the future. To get some inspiration, they could have a look at these websites, which feature video clips and case studies of people in lots of different careers.

Did you know? Many of the top careers in high-tech areas like computing, engineering and research did not even exist a generation ago! There’s also been a big increase in caring jobs, such as those working with children and with older people.


These are just a few of the sites that are out there. To explore others why not visit my Useful Sites page. They can also find out more by using careers software programs at their school or college.

Careers programs can help them to explore their own career ideas and interests and find out about hundreds of different jobs so they can decide what kind of career might suit them. Schools and colleges are responsible for making sure that careers advice is available to their students so find out what careers software is provided by your child’s school.

Did you know? There are fewer and fewer unskilled jobs available. In fact, the government predict that in 10 years time 40 per cent of jobs will need a qualification at higher education degree level.

Some commonly used programs:

  • Careerscape (from Cascaid)
  • eCLIPS
  • Fast Tomato
  • Higher Ideas
  • JED (Job Explorer Database)
  • Kudos (from Cascaid)
  • Launchpad
  • U-Explore


The National Careers Service site has over 750 job profiles. They can look at job families or use the search facility to find out more about careers. The Prospects site has similar information for graduate level occupations.

UCAS Progress has a searchable database of post-16 courses and work-based learning.

Once they’ve got some career ideas, they could try listing those they are most interested in and why they like the sound of them.

Step 3: Making a plan

Once they’ve found the jobs they are interested in, they could try to answer the four questions below:

Can I start this career straight from school? This may depend on what qualifications they have or are predicted to get when they leave school. Remember, the majority of jobs these days ask for some qualifications. The Raising of the Participation Age (RPA) means that they can still go straight into a job, but there must be some recognised training as part of that job.

Could I do an apprenticeship? For some areas of work, an apprenticeship is one of the main ways to start their career. They may need some qualifications before they can begin an apprenticeship.

Do I need to get some more qualifications for this type of job? They may need to gain some more qualifications at school, college or even university. Find out what subjects and types of qualification they may need. For example, they might need a general course like A-levels, or a vocational course (sometimes called an applied general course) like a BTEC (one that helps prepare them for a particular area of work). See Qualifications explained for more information.

Do I need to build up my confidence and skills? They may not feel ready yet to start a higher level course, apprenticeship or job. Foundation Learning could help them to progress towards a Level 2 qualification (for example, GCSEs or a BTEC), which could move them closer to their career goals. See Foundation learning for more details.

Have a back-up plan

Even if they’ve got their ideal career in mind, it’s a good idea to think about other choices in case things don’t work out the way they planned. This is especially important if they’re aiming for a very popular course or career.

For example, if they don’t get the grades they are hoping for or there are no places available on their chosen Apprenticeship, they’ll need to have a good alternative to fall back on.

Ask them to think about their alternative career choices and have a second or third option ready in case their plans need to change. This could be a different career choice, or perhaps a different route towards their first choice career — or a similar one.

Chris Speedy is a careers adviser with more than 30 years’ experience. This article is from his website Careers Advice for Parents.

More information for parents

Financial help with your child’s studies at school or college

Foundation learning

Qualifications explained