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Talking to your teen about careers: conversation starters

Career conversation starters

Not sure how to discuss study and career paths with your teen? Here’s where to start

Talking to teens about anything can be hard! It’s important though to check in with them about their future goals, and that includes a study and career path for life after school. Pick the right moment and use the following three career conversation starters to kickstart a dialogue.

1. What are you passionate about?

Instead of focusing on specific career paths straight away, get the conversation flowing by chatting about their interests, hobbies or goals. You can then gently steer the conversation into linking these with certain jobs.

For example, if your teen is passionate about animals, ask them if they’d prefer to work with wildlife (a zoologist) or pets (a veterinarian) one day. Do they love gaming? Find out what part interests them the most – if it’s the creative side, have they thought about getting into animation? Or if it’s the tech they’re keen on, they could become a videogame or software developer.

Here are some more ways to match interests with careers:

  • Art – UX designer, audio engineer, science illustrator
  • Being outdoors – marine scientist, geologist, ecologist
  • Fashion and beauty – fashion designer, cosmetic chemist, data scientist
  • Health – nurse, immunologist, biomedical engineer
  • Saving the environment – ecologist, solar energy engineer, environmental scientist
  • Sports – sports scientist, exercise physiologist, sports data analyst

OUR SECRET FORMULA: Learn more about STEM + X – where ‘X’ is your passion, an interest, another subject, a big opportunity or life-changing goal

2. What school subject are you loving this year?

When it comes to career conversation starters, school is a really good topic. Hearing about what’s sparking their curiosity in class is a great way to learn about their strengths and how these can be paired with a future study path and career. If English excites them, science communication could be a fantastic area to pursue. Are they maths obsessed? Data skills are in demand, as are data scientists and analysts. Do they love geography? A career as a climate change scientist or a meteorologist might be perfect for them.

Career conversation starters
RELATED: A list of every high school STEM elective we can think of

And remember, you don’t have to have the answers right away. You can simply listen to them talk about what they’re enjoying, then research some ideas before bringing it up again later. Ask them for their input too – have their teachers mentioned any careers that use the skills learned in the subject? Have they thought of ways to link the two?

3. Can you see yourself at university?

Uni is awesome, but it’s not for everyone. If your teen is not keen on the idea of signing up for a degree, ask them if they’ve heard of VET (vocational education and training). VET is a brilliant way to kickstart a career without a degree and get lots of practical experience while you study. Some VET qualifications also involve apprenticeships if your child would like to do something hands-on.

There’s a wide range of STEM career options to explore through VET, including:

  • Health support worker
  • Machinery operator or driver
  • IT specialist
  • Mechanic
  • Electrician
  • Carpenter and joiner
  • Plumber
  • Construction manager
  • Crop farmer
  • Dental assistant
  • Enrolled nurse
  • ICT support technician
  • Medical technician
  • Software and applications programmer

And if they do want to go to uni? Ask them what degrees that might like to study and find out together if there are any pre-requisite subjects for these courses. Once that’s sorted, you can chat about where that degree might take them. For example, if they want to study a Bachelor of Science, this could lead to a career as a pharmacologist, food scientist or a palaeontologist (depending on their major). Or if they’re considering a Bachelor of Engineering, they could work in renewable energy, aerospace or construction (again, depending on the major they choose).

FREE RESOURCES TO SHARE WITH YOUR TEEN: Our Job Kits are downloadable 8-page e-mags, offering a complete introduction to individual STEM careers

Career conversation starters: some general tips

Always keep an open-mind when talking to your teen about their future career – it’s okay if they have no idea what they want to do, have heaps of ideas or are somewhere in the middle. They might also change their mind a lot. It’s all part of the process and you just need to be there for them as they work it out.

Don’t force your opinion or pressure them into a specific path – this might cause communication to breakdown, and also… It’s their choice! Provide the thought starters and then let them guide the conversation and their direction.

Encourage them to chat to family members and family friends about their careers. Being exposed to lots of different study and career path stories can show them what’s possible and inspire them to start planning their own journey. You can also point them to the Careers with STEM role models hub so they can read hundreds of career stories and get tips from people working in areas they are interested in.

Be prepared – your teen might surprise you with a random study or career question when you least expect it. Keep up-to-date with the latest career info by bookmarking the Careers with STEM parents page, checking out our YouTube channel and subscribing to our parents podcast, The Buzz About STEM. It’s also totally fine if you don’t know the answer. Why not research it together?

Give them space – are they resisting any conversation about their future plans? Don’t push it. You can always try again later when they’re ready.

And what if they don’t know what they want to do?

Don’t panic. We’ve got lots of resources to help. Start by getting them to take the below quiz so they can narrow down an area they might like to explore.

They can also take a look at our other career quizzes over here.

Once they’ve identified an ‘X’, we recommend searching Careers with STEM stories by ‘X’, so they can find study paths and jobs associated with their interest.

For more advice to help your teen on their study and career journey, sign up for the Careers with STEM: Parents e-newsletter.

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