With the ink barely dry on the final exams and assignments for the year, if you’re a school leaver, you’re no doubt revelling in your new-found freedom.
But soon enough, the focus will shift to the next stage of life as you weigh-up big questions about the future, such as whether to work, study, travel or have a gap year to find yourself.
While you’ve most probably already given significant thought to the question of ‘what next?’, it may be dependent upon a range of factors falling into place, such as achieving the right grades or finding a suitable job.
But if things don’t go the way you planned, or you simply have a change of heart, how do you decide on what comes next.
According to Kira Clarke, a lecturer in education policy at the University of Melbourne, it’s not an easy time of life for students, particularly with much of the focus on university as the gold standard students should strive for when they finish school.
This is despite figures showing that just over a third (36%) of 20-year-old Australians were attending a University or other tertiary institution at the time of the 2011 Census.
While research has shown that a University degree can result in higher incomes over a lifetime, General Manager of the Hessel Group, Rohan Feegrade, said it was important for school leavers to sit-back and review their next steps in the context of their entire lifetime.
“With life expectancy on the rise in Australia, it also means that’ today’s school leavers are likely to spend more time in the workforce than previous generations – more than 50 years in most cases,” Rohan said.
“That’s a long time to be in the workforce, so ideally, you want to be doing something that you really enjoy.”
Rohan said rather than feeling overwhelmed by this fact, school leavers should use it as motivation to think through next steps.
Here’s his advice on how to work through the decision making process as you leave school and enter the adult world.
Take the pressure down
Research shows that today’s school leavers will have an estimated 17 jobs and 5 careers during their working lives. Rohan’s first piece of advice is not to get too tied down by the pressure of making the ‘right’ decision, as your first choice probably isn’t going to be your only one.
“The choice you make today doesn’t have to be the one that you follow for the rest of your life, so try not to get too weighed down by the weight of expectation. If you make the wrong choice, you’re probably not going to have to live with that forever,” he said.
Have a backup plan
While your heart may be set on your first choice of career, keep in mind that things don’t always go to plan. You may not achieve the grades required to study in a particular field, or once you start doing a job, you may find it’s just not for you. For this reason, it’s a good idea to have a number of fall-back options.
Rohan suggested that every school leaver should develop a list of career or study options to choose from as a backup plan.
“Having fall-back options is a good idea because it can significantly reduce the anxiety and time involved if your first choice doesn’t work out for some reason,” he said.
“When creating this plan, consider how your strengths or a current skill-set may be suited to a different profession or career option.”
Rohan said the temptation for many school leavers was to take a direction that feels familiar, such as choosing a career path similar to their parents, aligning it with a hobby or basing it on a skill-set they’ve developed at school. For example, choosing to be an accountant because you’re good at maths.
“While it’s not a bad starting point, it’s also important to recognise that career suitability is about much more than academic or technical ability,” he said.
“You need to have the right personality for that career, as well as enjoy the day-to-day demands and environment that go with it. It’s a good idea to ensure that a number of these factors align before choosing it as a career option.”
One of the best ways to understand the ins-and-outs of a career choice is to speak to those who have been doing it for a number of years or to do a short-course in the field to understand how you may enjoy it.
Your best interests
A good start when selecting a career is to choose an option that aligns with your interests. For example, if you enjoy interacting with children, a career working with children may be the go, such as being a teacher, educator or nanny.
However, Rohan warned it should only form part of your decision making process.
“It’s certainly an advantage if you can make a career out of a strong interest or affiliation, but it’s not the only consideration,” he said.
“If you use this as a starting point, spend some time delving into other aspects of a career in that field, such as personality types and a typical day in that occupation. The last thing you want to do is turn something you love into something that’s a chore.”
Be job ready
Whichever path you choose, an important consideration is the training that is available, as well as the job opportunities once you’re qualified.
Also, think about how long you want to study or train for, the costs involved and whether you want to receive training on the job from a professional. This may give you some guidance as to whether training through University, TAFE, Private Registered Training Organisation (such as the Hessel Group) or doing an apprenticeship is most suitable.
Rohan said another important consideration was the job opportunities available to you once you finish study or training. Thinking about the industries and jobs that will be most in demand in the future is a good starting point.
There are no bad decisions
Rohan said the most important outtake is that school leavers shouldn’t be afraid of making a mistake, as their decision isn’t permanent.
“Whether you decide to jump into study, take a year off to travel the world, or go straight into work, you’ll gain valuable life experience that will serve you well later in life,” he said.
“The best advice is to sit down with family friends and look at your strengths, weaknesses and interests and start to formulate a plan of attack based on these.”