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Career Search: Start Charting a Path for Youth Now

PACER Center, Inc.

This article from PACER looks at some ways parents can help their teens explore interests through volunteer work, hobbies, or internships. Exploring these ideas makes transition to adult life easier and help youths decide which career path to take upon graduation.

If your child is in middle school or just beginning high school, it may seem like graduation and the transition to adult life are far into the future. Yet it’s during these years that teens can explore interests that may lead to that first full-time job or attendance at a technical school, community college, or university.

By exploring interests now through volunteer work, hobbies, or internships, you can better help your son or daughter decide which career path to take upon graduation.

As a parent, you may have some good ideas about what your son or daughter would like to do after graduation. Talk with your teenager about his or her special interests or passions. These areas may point to potential career paths.

Most youth under the age of 20 are not developmentally ready to think very far into the future. Some will become stressed, angry, or withdrawn if pushed too directly to think about choices outside of their experience.

Yet research shows that if youth can see their dreams as possible paths toward employment, they are more likely to reach their career goals. Early, ongoing career exploration can help you raise the topic at times when your teenager is most receptive.

Consider these Career Exploration Ideas

Your son or daughter may want to consider participating in formal programs such as:

  • apprenticeships
  • job shadowing
  • community- or faith-based service projects
  • programs open to high school students at a community college, university, or technical school
  • specialized summer camps

Career exploration also can include informal experiences such as:

  • visiting technical schools
  • starting a lawn care, dog-walking, or other business
  • touring a manufacturing company
  • volunteering

For more information on IEPs, check out
LD Topics: IEPs.

Use the Individualized Education Program (IEP) to Prepare for a Career

The IEP should help your son or daughter prepare for future goals. Besides specifying high school courses that will provide a strong foundation, the IEP could include activities such as:

  • An evening or weekend course at a community college or an adult continuing education program. Attending such a class might help your son or daughter try out transportation options, experience a new learning environment, use high school accommodations in a new setting, or explore what future careers are really like.
  • Internships, part-time jobs, or volunteer and community service opportunities. These activities can provide hands-on experience to help define your youth’s career choice.
  • Pre-college programs specifically designed for high school students the summer before or after their senior year. The IEP team may be able to arrange financial payment of these exploratory courses if they support career goals.
  • Translating your young adult’s strengths, interests, and dreams into career goals takes time and effort.

By taking advantage of some real-life work experiences, your network of friends and associates, and some family-supported career exploration, your teenager may discover options to add to those developed by the IEP team.

These first exploratory steps can be expanded upon and enhanced as your young adult continues on his or her career path.

Hobbies, volunteer jobs can point the way.

Ariana has a learning disability and loves helping her father in his workshop. She built bookcases for her bedroom and helped construct a bus stop shelter at the end of her driveway.

When her parents heard about a summer volunteer program to help construct homes for low-income families, they signed up together. With her parents’ supervision, Ariana helped attach decking, frame walls, put up wall board, and follow the progress on the blueprints.

When she returned to school that fall, she signed up for a computer-aided design class and discovered she was good at spatial concepts and mechanical rendering of three-dimensional products.

With help from her parents and guidance counselors, Ariana is now researching technical schools. She is eager to find a career that matches her understanding of construction principles and spatial design.

Transition and Career Resources

The U.S. Department of Agriculture Farm Service Agency(opens in a new window) provides agriculture small business loans to rural youth.

WorkForce Centers provide job training, education, and employment services at a single neighborhood location. See Minnesota WorkForce Center(opens in a new window) or call 651-296-5616; 888-GET-JOBS (toll free); 651-296-3900 (TTY); 800-657-3973 (TTY).

Rehabilitation Services are housed in WorkForce Centers and can help people with disabilities achieve their employment and independent living goals. Career training at technical schools, community colleges, and universities can be partially paid for through Rehabilitation Services. See: Minnesota State Rehabilitation Services(opens in a new window).

PACER Center(opens in a new window) offers articles on the Americans with Disabilities Act and strategies to help youth prepare for employment and adulthood.

Publication Date:

Moses, J. (Summer, 2008). Career search: start charting a path for youth now. Pacesetter 32(2), 6-7.

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