The first 10 years of work are critical for the individual, and the country, writes Heather Carpenter

The first few months of any year are often fraught for families whose young people are in transition -- to work, training, or tertiary education. The choices they make at this stage are hugely important for a number of reasons:

- A good post-school decision affects their success in workplaces, training or tertiary education, maintains learning enthusiasm and motivation, and maximises the likelihood of achievement.

- Conversely a poor decision and ongoing uncertainty can spiral into an equally powerful sense of failure, loss of confidence.

- A good choice of workplace which matches the interests and skills is most likely to be the one where they will develop their skills, get encouragement and grow their workplace knowledge.

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The problem with failure and poor work and personal confidence at this early age is that many then become afraid to try new options.

Long-term career prospects are largely determined in the first 10 years of working life. Getting on the right track, gaining skills and economic momentum early makes a significant difference. For many young people in the OECD the situation is dire. A recent OECD report tells us why:

"Across the globe there are than 40 million 15- to 29-year-olds (or one in six youths) across OECD countries are neither employed nor in education or training - they have literally disappeared from their country's education, social, and labour market systems."

In New Zealand 11.9 per cent of 15- to 24-year-olds are in this category. These people are economically and socially disadvantaged and most at risk of a lifetime of precarious low-paid jobs.

They are desperate for help, old enough to really understand the need for the right direction, but losing confidence as they fail to find a place to start. Those young people who are in the education and training systems, however highly they achieve, still have a 'minefield' of choices to be negotiated. The stakes are high for all of us, as there are bigger implications to consider.

An employable workforce that has made good choices is a more sustainable and resilient one. It will contribute to improved health outcomes, decreased crime and tax benefit costs and increased tax revenue. They will be able to access and benefit from good strategic career management advice for the important choices made in every decade of their lives to ensure a sustainable career.

Who can provide this? Many schools have made significant progress in implementing good careers education. However time commitment is often marginal and specialist help in decision-making varies, depending on the training and experience of careers staff.

Young people often get well-meaning but not specialist advice from those around them. This can compound the problem, especially when it comes from Stephen Joyce.

The Minister for Tertiary Education, Skills and Employment's enthusiasm for STEM careers is understandable -- we must train more in these areas, however it's best we identify these students well first. Encouragement without analysis can rebound.

There are many examples of the young person who excels in science and maths at high school and is influenced into engineering courses -- but it's not the right choice for them. That young person is left to carry the burden of change -- two years into the course when they hate it and realise it's not for them, so they are hugely conflicted after the time and money invested.

Time is a critical factor at this age and stage. The sooner they get into a work environment where they are motivated and earning, the sooner they get financial independence. Those left behind suffer.

Many young people need assistance after a more generalist degree where they have gained excellent skills but not a specific direction -- that's when the step into the best-fit workplace is critical. Starting in the right workplace, one that produces satisfaction and high work commitment, gives significant advantages in opportunities for training, development and progression.

Another group which looks for help are those in their late 20s. They've done a few years in the career of early choice and it's not quite right, they know it's not where they want to make their career, or excel.

Again, quick specialist advice and assistance to solve the problem and transition efficiently is invaluable.

Young people across the economic spectrum are affected by early access to good career decision-making.

Good decisions -- the ones that lead to the best available work choice, training and learning have a direct link to those first 10 career years, and then in later career. Good decisions lead to better chances over time -- to build essential career skills, enter the market and achieve personal and economic independence.

This is the time to look for specialist help for the motivational and economic momentum it can provide.

Dr Heather Carpenter is a careers and education consultant, and author of two books on careers. She is a life member of CDANZ, the association for Career Professionals. On the web www.thecareermaze.com