1. Teens
  2. School, education & work
  3. Further study & jobs

Jobs, careers, further study: getting ready

15-18 years

In the last couple of years of secondary school, your teenage child will probably be thinking about careers and further study. Will the future involve a job, university or TAFE study, or a gap year? You can help your child with decision-making and the transition to life after secondary school.

Thinking about jobs, careers, university or further study

During the secondary school years, jobs, careers, training and apprenticeships, and university or further study will be on the agenda for your teenage child. Some teenagers are very focused on their next steps, but it’s also common for many teenagers not to know what they want to do.

Your child probably does need to make some decisions. Is she interested in university, or does she want a job? Does vocational study interest her more than university? Does she want to work or travel for a while before further study?

Answering these questions can help your child make some basic choices about whether to look for jobs, apply for university, vocational education and training, or apply for deferred entry and so on.

It can seem like the decisions your child makes now are all important. But it’s worth reminding your child, and yourself, that these decisions aren’t forever. If your child doesn’t get into a particular job or course, there might be another opportunity to get in later through a different pathway.

Your child’s opportunities to learn and develop different skills will be lifelong.

Too much pressure to do well or make decisions can lead to stress, anxiety and other health problems for teenagers. You can support your child in these final years of school by encouraging him to have a balanced lifestyle that includes socialising, relaxation and recreation, as well as study.

Helping teenagers with decisions about jobs, careers, university or further study

Your child might come to you wanting advice about jobs, careers and further study, or you might start a conversation with your child. It helps to be prepared, so you can take advantage of casual conversations to talk about your child’s plans for the near future.

Here are some ideas to help with decision-making about your child’s future.

Exploring interests
A great first step is getting your child to think about her interests. Identifying your child’s interests can guide her towards suitable work or study options.

For example, you could say things like ‘Let’s think of the types of things you enjoy doing’, ‘What subjects do you like?’, What subjects do you think you do best?’, or ‘What other things do you like doing?’

Most secondary schools have work experience programs. Career counsellors at school can help your child think about how to use his interests to explore future work and study options. Or your child might be able to explore interests through volunteering or short internships.

Your child might discover that these options don’t suit her after all. You can be ready to help her think about other options if her plans don’t work out.

What if you feel your child’s ambitions or interests aren’t realistic or are a poor match for your child’s abilities? This can be tricky. But rather than discounting or criticising your child’s plans, encourage him to learn more about the job or course he’s interested in or similar options.

Finding out more
You can help your child get ideas about what she might like to do in the future by:

  • asking your child what her ‘dream’ job would be   
  • encouraging your child to talk to relatives and friends about their work   
  • pointing out people in different jobs and careers, and asking your child whether she could imagine being that person
  • encouraging your child to approach universities and training authorities for information    
  • going with your child to open days at TAFE, colleges and universities    
  • going to careers expos for school leavers or students   
  • encouraging your child to speak to careers advisors at your child’s school
  • looking at the careers and employment sections in newspapers or websites together     
  • trying out part-time jobs or volunteer work.

Choosing school subjects
It’s important for your child to put some thought into school subjects.

Subject choices at school can be important because some university or TAFE courses have prerequisites for entry. This means you must have studied them at school. Many universities offer bridging courses to help students move into a different area of study.   

If your child already has plans for jobs or study after finishing school, you can help him work out whether he needs to do certain subjects to put these plans into action.    

The school should also be able give your child advice. School careers advisors are a great resource, and some schools offer careers days and careers expos.

Identifying pathways
There are lots of different pathways that lead to careers. Here are some pathways for you and your child to explore:

  • Higher education: some young people go to university after secondary school to do an undergraduate degree. MyUniversity can help your child choose the university that best suits her interests and circumstances. It also has resources to help your child with the transition to higher education.    
  • Vocational education and training (VET): this includes studying at technical training institutes, TAFE, community colleges and distance learning centres. This could be a good option if your child is interested in a course involving technical and hands-on skill development such as car mechanics, beauty therapy and so on.    
  • Apprenticeships or traineeships: this training provides practical skills, work experience and formal training for many occupations while earning a wage. Apprenticeship programs include Australian apprenticeships, Australian school-based apprenticeships, Trade Training Centres, Australian Defence Force apprenticeships and vocational education and training.   
  • Work: some young people want to start a job after finishing secondary school.   
  • Gap year: this is when you take some time off before doing study or training. Gap years can give young people the chance to earn money, develop skills, learn about other cultures and places, work in overseas aid, volunteer and think about their futures.    
  • Combining work and study: some young people study and work at the same time, either to pay for their courses or to earn money while working out what interests them.

Talking about lifelong learning
It might be worth letting your child know that his working life is likely to be a journey. He might decide on something now but change direction as he learns new skills and develops new interests. This is part of ‘lifelong learning’.

Understanding this can help your child adapt and take advantage of opportunities that come with change. You can use examples of people in your family or circle of friends who have changed direction or kept learning, or who are doing things now that are different from what they started doing.

What if your child wants to do something but you want her to do something else? It’s normal to have hopes and expectations about your child’s future. But ask yourself whether your hopes match your child’s interests, strengths, talents, passions and dreams.

Helping your child with the transition to a job, further study or a gap year

Whatever path your child chooses after finishing school, it’ll be a new experience for both you and your child. Your child might need some help adjusting. You might also find that you have to come to terms with your child entering the adult world.

Here are some ideas to help with the changes.

Tertiary education
Tertiary education is very different from secondary school.

There isn’t as much structure to the day. No-one is there to take the roll each morning, or check on study. Your child will have to get himself to lectures and tutorials and organise his own study. There are financial considerations that you and your child might not have encountered before. There’s also a new social life for your child to manage.

Universities and other institutions usually have programs and support units to help with study skills, if that’s what your child needs. Joining social groups, clubs and sports teams can help your child make new friends.

Work
If your child is starting a first job, she’ll have to learn new skills, get things done on time, work with diverse people and manage her time. Young workers can be vulnerable too, so it’s important for them to be well informed of their employment rights and their rights to a safe workplace.

It’s OK for you to keep an eye on how things are going. You can ask your child what his workmates are like and what work he’s doing. Take notice of his mood when he leaves for work and when he comes home.

If you have any concerns about your child’s wellbeing, the first step is talking to her.

Gap year
If your child wants a gap year, it’s a good idea to plan it well in advance. This way your child can work out how he’s going to spend his time and earn money to support himself or fund travel. If he’s living at home, you might want to talk about whether he’s going to contribute to household chores and finances.

This kind of planning will help your child get the most out of a gap year.

Your child’s choices after secondary school are just the start of her adult journey. Many teenagers want to change direction after they’ve been working or studying for a while. If this happens with your child, exploring the reasons for the change can help her decide what to do next.

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Last updated or reviewed
01-12-2014

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Raising Children Network is supported by the Australian Government. Member organisations are the Parenting Research Centre and the Murdoch Childrens Research Institute with The Royal Children’s Hospital Centre for Community Child Health.

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