'Young and uninformed': Why South Africa's youth desperately needs career guidance

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A study revealed that only 15% of individuals are satisfied in with their jobs
A study revealed that only 15% of individuals are satisfied in with their jobs

Choosing a career path can be a daunting task for many scholars.

Students have to grapple with the magnitude of having to decide what they would like to do for the rest of their lives, before they even really know what it is that they enjoy and what their career options are.

Reportedly, larger numbers of matriculants are leaving school without a clear sense of direction as to their future studies or employment opportunities.

A local journal article found that the lack of career advice provided in South Africa is putting a great limitation on the youth, stating that students in less-resourced communities are rarely provided with trained guidance counsellors and do not have the means to seek counselling.

Consequentially, students have low levels of career aspirations and average levels of self-confidence, because they are unaware of their strengths and talents, or are ignorant of the career paths they may excel in.

Not only does a lack of career advice result in higher levels of school dropouts, failure rates, and a lack of interest, but it often leaves the youth choosing career paths that they believe will make them more money or will need the least amount of effort to pursue.

Subject choice and career guidance counsellor, Shirley Brooks, told Parent24: "Sometimes, young people embark on further studies to fulfil their parents' dreams or because they are familiar with the particular direction and do not know what other options are available."

"I have seen that students become disheartened when they find themselves failing their courses because they have bitten off more than they can chew or the chosen course does not interest them at all.  This often leads to students discontinuing their tertiary education and harbouring feelings of inadequacy or failure."

A lack of career guidance is arguably one of the most common issues in schools and could be what students are missing to make informed and realistic decisions about their future and better choices for a successful future.

Also see: 'We are delighted': All preschools and daycares now included in the next vaccine roll-out

How does it work? 

A study revealed that 85% of people are unsatisfied with their jobs.

Individuals can be unhappy in their jobs for many reasons including their unsatisfactory salary, a lack of opportunity for growth or a toxic work environment, however, sometimes the reason for dissatisfaction at work can be due to the lack of compatibility to the line of work.

Career guidance is a comprehensive program that is designed to help individuals make informed career choices, while a career guidance or aptitude test provides clarity by enhancing the awareness of an individual's skills, values, interests and motivators.

Brooks explained that an indication of a person's personality preferences does not provide sufficient information on which to base career options.

"Thorough career guidance should be based on the results of a number of evaluation instruments which are analysed together with information drawn from an in-depth interview with the client. These instruments would usually include a personality questionnaire, together with a number of interest questionnaires and an aptitude test." 

"An experienced career guidance counsellor would use all the information that is gathered and look at it holistically before making a recommendation."

Also read: As many as 750,000 children have dropped out of school during the pandemic

Why is career guidance necessary?

High school students don't usually know all their possible career options and strengths, and yet the school system requires that they make subject choices in Grade 9 that will have a direct impact on their acceptance into a specific degree stream or career choice.

Even in high school, scholars can be misinformed and believe the myth that choosing notoriously difficult subjects, such as physical sciences, will make for a more desirable university application, no matter what the degree stream.

However, this is simply not the case and these misconceptions are an easy way to make an aspiring lawyer, for example, feel inadequate in their schooling or doubt their intellect.

Furthermore, tertiary education is expensive, and choosing a degree stream with little to no prior research could lead to a degree extension due to level of difficulty, for example, when this additional financial burden can be alleviated with the level of certainty and direction provided by career guidance counselling.

Must see: 'This opportunity was seized from me': Tertiary students reveal virtual struggles to keep dreams alive

It is never too late

Much like with many life choices, the key to a good outcome is through thorough consideration and research, and as early on as possible. 

"[Students] often romanticise certain careers as a result of the television shows they watch (eg legal and medical drama series), but they are ignorant about what the careers and study directions entail.  This is where subject choice guidance provides valuable insight into one's interests, abilities and personality preferences and helps establish realistic expectations," Brooks explained.

"When a person follows a career that suits their aptitudes, interests and personality preferences, job contentment or happiness usually follows.  Since one spends most of one's day at work, it stands to reason that if one is unhappy in one's job, it could have a detrimental effect on general well-being – both physically and emotionally."

"If this process is started in Grade 9 already, a learner has a better idea of the possible suitable study directions and the required minimum admission requirements that should be met to enter the relevant tertiary study institutions. Learners are thus able to choose the correct subjects and the admission requirements can serve as a motivation to achieve better results at school," Brooks told us. 

However, it is never too late to undergo career guidance counselling.

If you're a student gearing up to apply for university or even postgraduate studies, it is always wise to know one's options and be aware of career streams in which one's skillset will thrive.

"If you are happy in your job, you tend to be more diligent, motivated and productive," Brooks concluded. 

So, what Confucius once said seems to be true: "Choose a job you love and you will never work a day in your life."

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