Tom O'Neil: Tell teens to stay in learning if they don't stay in school

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Once teens understand themselves and how they learn, their career engagement increases. Photo / Thinkstock
Once teens understand themselves and how they learn, their career engagement increases. Photo / Thinkstock

Recently I was chatting with my dear mate Bob about career issues facing his teenage daughter. While she's a bright cookie and will go far, many parents fret if their child doesn't excel at school and doesn't relate well to traditional teaching methods.

As a young guy growing up, I was taught that I had to "stay in school" if I was to have any chance of being successful in life.

While I mostly followed that mantra in my early career, it was detrimental to a number of my friends who would have done better looking for a trade at 17, rather than stumbling through the education system, learning to hate learning as they got older.

Other mates got into trades early and were out earning an adult wage by the time I was graduating from university. Many of them now have their own trade businesses, employing staff and earning much more than me and most of my professional friends.

If, like Bob, you are wondering what to do with your career-drifting teen, there are a number of resources that can help.

Vocational consultancies like Achievement Discoveries assist teens to quickly ascertain their work specific skills and abilities, allowing them to understand their personality traits and what career paths will suit them best long term. Brian Noble, CEO of Achievement Discoveries, believes that "academic disengagement for many comes from how we teach. Once teens understand themselves and how they learn, their career engagement increases, freeing them up to pursue an occupation that matches their passion, skills and interests".

A great free resource is the government website Career Quest. With a fun tool that recommends jobs based on your actual interests, it opens up a world of career opportunities, many you may not have thought about before.

There are also detailed links to hundreds of positions, highlighting not just what the responsibilities of each role entails on a daily basis but also training requirements, salary and pay figures, current vacancies and expected career progression.

It also provides quotes from real life people doing the role on a regular basis, showing what motivates them and the real life challenges they face on the ground.

A great way to get this discussion started with your teen is to ask them some key questions:

• What are the things they feel they are really good at?

• What are the things they are passionate about?

• What subject makes their eyes light up when they talk?

These three simple questions will help to give some initial direction on where they can start aiming their career in the future.

I think it's about time the phrase "Stay in school" was changed to "Stay in learning". If your child is genuinely trying hard at school but not making the grade, look at available options. Transitioning (not dropping) out of school into a strong career your teen is passionate about is far better than them staying in the education system long-term for no gain.


Tom O'Neil is an award-winning business speaker, author of The 1% Principle and Selling Yourself to Employers, and CEO of cv.co.nz and AchievementExpert.com.

- NZ Herald

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