Do We Need A New Word For “Career?”

Doubt she's thinking about her career... (via Wyoming_Jackrabbit on Flickr)
Doubt she’s thinking about her career… (via Wyoming_Jackrabbit on Flickr)

When a post like last week’s is as popular as it is (so far it’s definitely the most-read article I’ve written here), it’s rather difficult to know how to follow up. Of course, it’s nice to have some momentum, and in an effort to leech build off of that momentum, I thought I would continue to elaborate on some of the ideas that I mentioned only in passing previously.
The “Generation Jobless?” post was written with a desire to shed light on both sides of the post-secondary education and youth un/underemployment issue here in Canada, so today’s entry might seem a bit more one-sided in comparison. We’ll see.

Among my proposed “solutions” last week was to re-examine the way that career-related subject matter is treated in the curricula of both secondary and post-secondary education. The reality right now is that there’s a really big missed opportunity for students to have a streamlined career-education experience that is all at once inspiring, motivating, helpful, and practical. Instead, most students’ first serious exposure to any kind of career-related programming in the formal school system is in the form of a tenth grade class that they simply don’t take seriously. And who could blame them?

I can remember my own experience of this class pretty vividly. It was the year 2000 (my first year of high school), and the class at the time was known as Career and Life Management (CALM 20). The class itself covered an eclectic mix of topics ranging from sex education to budgeting, and the “career” component was mostly comprised of a rudimentary interests assessment. I seem to recall things like “architect,” “author,” and “special effects technician” ending up in my top results, and I shrugged all of them off. In any case, that class was painfully dry, uninspiring, and boring. Even the teacher – who normally taught social studies and physical education – didn’t seem to want to be there. I was an honours student all throughout high school, but I only did barely enough in that class to pull off the minimum passing grade. I was just happy to be done with it.

And when I was done with it, I didn’t look back. It’s safe to say my first experience being “career educated” was a massive failure, and I’m willing to bet that for the majority of people in my age group and younger, the same is true.

Of course, when it came time to graduate and move on to that next step (and trust me when I say I applied to attend university simply because I could, and I didn’t know what else to do), perhaps because my first experience talking careers was so unpleasant, I didn’t go out of my way to seek career-related help. As a first year student, I told myself, “by the time I finish, I’ll be ready! All those senior level courses will ensure I feel confident and able to jump into the job market right away.” There was no one telling me that expectation was unrealistic. In the end, it was simply because my anxiety got the best of me that I decided to take matters into my own hands and started volunteering and pondering my future a bit more seriously. I never even thought once about accessing the Career Services at either of the universities I attended.

This is part of the reason I think it would be a great idea to make career education mandatory beyond high school. Most students simply don’t take the initiative to seek these resources out on their own. Consider SFU’s Beedie School of Business ahead of the curve on this point – they’ve just implemented a new program, called the “Business Career Passport.” It’s a program that requires all students in the faculty of business to complete a minimum of six career education workshops in order to graduate. It’s a great start! Now, if only we could get everyone else on board…

Still, mandatory sessions are only a part of the solution. If students aren’t inclined to take them seriously in the first place, then those sessions will only be marginally effective. Ultimately, you’d want your students to be looking forward to these programs as an integral part of their educational experience, and that brings me to the title of this article.

A part of me thinks we need a new way to talk about careers. Maybe even a new word. The word “career” – despite our best intentions – gets bogged down with connotations that simply aren’t reflective of the excitement, inspiration, meaning, and energy that those of us in the career development field view it with. I’d be interested in seeing research showing youths’ associations with the word “career.” I’d predict you’d get results like this:

  • Boring
  • Serious
  • Work
  • Job
  • Money

I could be wrong about that of course, but how uninspiring is that? It’s no wonder that kids don’t want to talk about careers.

So, the tough part: Do we need a new word for “career?” What would that word be?

*Cross-posted in Dave’s Diary at the Career Services Informer.