Youngsters with ambitions, no matter how unlikely, will learn to focus and work hard

Red velvet cupcakes with meringue butter cream: they were in the refrigerators and cupboards at Papakura High School and Antony Kapeli-Su'a's nearby home. Entered by his hospitality teacher Di Corban in the Chelsea School Bake Off, the then 14-year-old was determined to do well so he made cupcake batch after cupcake batch.

It paid off. Antony, now 17, won the bake off and, experiencing the sweet taste of success, knew he had found his niche. From that moment on, he has focused on becoming a chef, travelling to Europe to train and one day opening his own restaurant.

"I always leaned toward more creative subjects, but I couldn't draw or paint or do anything like that," he recalls. "Then I started cooking and realised I could create these beautiful dishes. I had found my creative outlet."

Antony is the perfect example of someone who is young and focused - and there are a fair few of them out there. Some might not yet be in their teens, but they're talking to people in the industries they're interested in to learn more about what's involved; they're getting part-time jobs which provide apt work experience; they're taking the right subjects at school and researching options for tertiary education.


But can you ever be too young to start taking tentative steps along a career path?

It's a question we've pondered intermittently in our household for the last 18 months; ever since Miss Nine, then 7, announced she was starting her own business. There was no pressure from us; the first I knew about her business idea was when I proof-read the remarkably clear and colourful flyers offering neighbours the chance to have their pets looked after in their own homes when they're on holiday.

She wanted to spend more time with animals because she loves them (don't most kids?) but also because she'd decided to be a vet (again that's a common career goal among our young) and wanted to started "building up work experience". I had no idea she knew what work experience was nor why you needed it. She's been running her business quite successfully, and self directedly, ever since.

The Career Clinic's Caroline Sandford doesn't believe there's a time when a person is "too young" to start thinking about future career prospects. Caroline, a mother of two, says if children show an interest in something, it's important for parents to foster that curiosity.

"The role of parents is to build foundation skills so their children can make good decisions and feel confident in themselves about making those decisions," she says.

Laura Jackson and her dad, Ken, are a good example of the opportunities parents can open to their children. A keen skier, Ken has always taken the kids away on family ski holidays so it's become part of Laura's life.

Now 14, she is a Year 10 student at Kristin College on Auckland's North Shore and lives a 10 minute drive or so from indoor snow recreation centre Snowplanet. She spends a good deal of her time outside school training with its 365 Snowsports Academy and this year won the National Indoor Slalom Championship (U16) women's title. She coaches other young skiers in Snowplanet's Chilly Bin kids' programmes.

Ken spent time in his late teens and early twenties ski instructing in Switzerland and, like dad, Laura has her sights set on those slopes.


"I want to keep skiing and stay involved in ski racing and instructing for as long as I can and I really want to go to Europe," she says. "I'm also interested in science and perhaps doing something in that field, but I feel I've got skiing there for as long as I need it."

Ken reckons it's taught Laura to set goals and be focused, but he adds a serious interest in something like skiing can open other doors. He also says they're lucky to live close to a facility where Laura can actively and readily pursue her interest in skiing.

But what if your child comes to and says they want to be an astronaut or something else you feel is equally off the planet? Caroline Sandford says never scoff or tell them they're being stupid; instead ask what interests them about this particular field, what they know about it and whether they want to learn more about it.

"It's about allowing them to have the opportunity to learn for themselves and, in the process, work out whether a particular career path is in fact the one they really want to walk down. If they don't appear to have the aptitude for a certain vocation, don't worry too much because chances are, with enough research and talking to people, they will work that out. Quite often having a dream and feeling as if you're working towards it is excellent motivation for pushing yourself and making more of an effort."

And, she adds, there are often a lot of different job opportunities within an area of interest, so while your son or daughter might not become the pro sportsperson they originally set out to be, they may be the team physio, promotions manager, coach or sports administrator.

Flynn Allan, 11, is well aware of the different opportunities in the performing arts and, with a mum who's a children's acting coach/actor and a dad who's a high school music teacher and musician, that's hardly surprising.

Flynn got his first role when he was just 2 years old, but it wasn't a positive experience so mum Taimi decided she would wait for him to ask to go on stage; he was 7 when he asked to be in a variety show his parents were organising.

Since then, Flynn has starred in an ASB Bank advertisement, a couple of stage plays and television shows like Nothing Trivial and Safe House. He likes being in different situations, of taking on characters that aren't like him and just the general atmosphere of camaraderie on set or in a rehearsal room.

He now can't imagine not being involved in performing arts, but says whether that will always be front of camera is uncertain. He's become more interested in cinematography, camera work and the ways in which science can play a role in special effects on stage and screen. Like Laura Jackson, he says he's learning about being focused, the need to be well organised.

Meanwhile, since the 2010 Chelsea School Bake Off, Antony has won more competitions including, with schoolmate Joy Gesmundo, the National Secondary School Culinary Challenge. The 2013 head boy at Papakura High School has won two scholarships for study at AUT and has met British celebrity chef Gordon Ramsay.