Taking Our Kids Into the Exploration Stage

Posted by: John Stewart on November 21, 2011 4:49 pm

This week we saw Grade Nine students across the country accompanying a parent, relative, neighbor or family friend to their workplace as part of a national initiative organized by the Learning Partnership.  The first Take Our Kids to Work (TOKW) day in 1995 represented the first time that parent’s were actively encouraged to be involved in the career exploration activities of their children by bringing them to their workplace.  Since the initial event, held solely in the Toronto area, the initiative has evolved into a research-supported activity that involves 200,000 14 year olds across the country.  TOKW day provides many students with knowledge about occupations, both specific to the job and about the world of work generally, and the day’s experiences help them with their future decision making as they define their path through high school and post-secondary education. If TOKW is to be an effective exploratory activity, we think that the information gained must be linked with the concepts, attitudes and skills learned during the growth stage.

It is significant that this opportunity is provided in the transition year between the Growth stage, which we addressed in the last blog, and the Exploration stage which involves trying out occupational possibilities through school classes, work and hobbies, and in the later part of the stage, involves tentative choices and skill development.  The Growth stage focused on the tasks of developing personal concepts and behaviors that will enhance future job exploration and job choosing skills.  The Exploration stage begins process of actually attempting some tasks and jobs, but unfortunately high school students typically have limited access to workplaces, other than those of their part time jobs.  The Learning Partnership website (http://www.thelearningpartnership.ca/page.aspx?pid=250) states that the TOKW program “was created through the philosophy that awareness leads to knowledge”.  The belief espoused is that the knowledge necessary to future decision-making is fostered through awareness of the many facets of the world-of-work and that that awareness is best experienced first hand.  Vicarious learning through the observation and imitation of role models is a good starting point as young people benefit from seeing the significant adults in their lives contributing to their workplace, families and society as a whole through their daily actions on the job.

The TOKW initiative represents a useful entrance into the Exploration stage but the process of career exploration is not without difficulty. The experiential learning that may take place on TOKW day needs to be connected to what students have already learned about themselves in the Growth stage.  Students are encouraged to, as a post TOKW day activity, describe their ultimate dream jobs and the five skills they would need to do these jobs.  If students are able to personalize these skills through the experience, the experience becomes a useful part of exploration. If this connection isn’t made, however, the observed workplace simply gets added to the list of occupations about which the student has a vague working knowledge.  Some would suggest that the average young person has a faint knowledge of 50 or so jobs (usually via exposure through TV, friends, neighbours and relatives], a good knowledge of a dozen jobs, and an excellent knowledge of five to six jobs.  The next difficulty to consider with regard to exploration is that this stage begins with efforts to know and fill, temporarily, numerous jobs, but quickly (typically in the final year of high school or during the first years of post-secondary) students are expected to begin focusing their occupational search in an effort to follow a particular path, delineated by the specific academic programing leading to that occupation. What gets lost in the narrowing process is the opportunity to further become aware of and explore other occupations.  Ultimately, we believe that the experiences offered on TOKW day have great potential for contributing to the exploratory activities characteristic of this stage.  However, if the connection to the concepts developed in the Growth stage are not made the result may be, at best a wasted school day and at worst it could lead to discontinuity in vocational development. Maybe TOKW day should be a part of our kids experience each year of their studies, accompanied by a requisite exercise in linking the experience each year to the related concepts already developed.

By John Stewart and Jeff Landine

*The views expressed by our authors are personal opinions and do not necessarily reflect the views of the CCPA

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