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7 Ugly Truths About Career Support for NZ Students

Updated: Jan 22, 2020

(1000 words, 6 minutes to read)

I’m constantly amazed at the stories I hear from parents, of when they were at high school and trying to decide on a future career path. Getting told to be a health worker when the person had no science background; being advised to apply for a job because tertiary studies were ‘out of the question’; there are lots of stories like this.

When I was about to graduate from high school, I was told the only careers for me were in nursing or teaching – there is nothing wrong with these careers but I knew they wouldn’t suit me.

Through my six-plus years in business as a career coach for New Zealand students and young adults, I’ve learned some hard truths about the level and quality of career support available for them.

Here’s 7 ugly truths I’ve learned, and that I’m trying to change:

1. Government resources aren’t comprehensive or up-to-date: The thinking and information behind career advice hasn’t changed since I was at school, despite new tools (such as the online career-based personality questionnaire I use) and new thinking about how we chose careers being available.

I was astounded to see a Government careers website suggesting that students look at job search websites, find jobs that are in demand and select one they might like. This isn’t realistic thinking, as students are more likely to pick a job that pays well, without thinking about whether they ARE interested in the role (or could stick at it).

2. School career counsellors often have no careers coaching expertise: Most career guidance/advisors are teachers who have moved into these roles; they haven’t been in the job market for a long time and don’t have contemporary career coaching skills or qualifications.

This leads to outdated thinking, such as advising students to pick their best subject and study it at University, and ignoring other options such as apprenticeships or polytechnics in favour of Universities.

3. Schools can’t provide a personalised approach to career exploration: Schools adopt a school-wide approach and programme for career search – they often don’t have time or resources to drill down to each individual student. Careers funding for schools isn’t earmarked exclusively for careers support, so often gets redirected.

This results in sending students to the Careers Expo as being a major part of the career search process – and I haven’t had feedback from ONE student that they found their career path at the Expo.

4. The career search process is often long and dragged out, as a money earner: I’ve seen private career coaches offer a career search process that involves 5, 6 or more coaching sessions, stretched out over a period of time. Young adults find this frustrating and quickly lose interest in the cookie cutter style of career coaching.

It doesn’t need to be this way – they need clear, specific, personalised results and action steps based on THEIR needs and interests; actions that they can complete in the near future, not multiple sessions that deliver long-winded ethereal descriptions of their ‘type’.

5. The over-emphasis on a Uni path is about the school, NOT the student: So much of the career advice at schools is around the concept: “pick your best subject and study it at University.” This kicks the career selection down the road. Every High School is focused on NCEA results, naturally, so careers support is not a high priority.

Unfortunately, many schools want to be able to say to prospective parents that 70% of their Year 13 students went to University, but many of these students contact me after the first Uni semester to tell me how unhappy they are and can’t tell their parents. And many of them shouldn’t be going to University. University isn’t the optimal career path, it is ONE option of many.

6. Young adults don’t want to listen to their parents’ career advice: Every adult can remember being a teenager and ignoring their parents’ advice and ideas – it’s what young adults do best! It’s possible that parents do have some good suggestions about career paths for their young adult children, but it’s likely these ideas are based on the career thinking they used when THEY were at school.

Plus, it’s hard to give career advice when you aren’t objective, are emotionally involved and have a horse in the race. I get it - I've been in that position. That’s where using an independent, knowledgeable and objective career coach is more likely to produce results that the student can buy into.

7. Schools and parents are using old paradigms to solve new problems: The theory of career exploration has changed, and most parents, schools and institutes haven’t adapted to these new theories.

The old thinking is around exploring a student’s abilities; the new thinking is about exploring their INTERESTS. This is because you can be good at something but not interested in it, whereas when you are interested in a field of work, you tend to be good at it and motivated to get more skilled in that area.

The old thinking about careers is to look at the tasks of the job and ask a student if they would like doing them; the new thinking is that we want to work with people who are similar to us, so we identify a student’s personality and see where those kind of people work.

In my role as a career coach for young adults, I’m pushing back against these outdated approaches to career exploration by using these tools:

1. An online comprehensive career search questionnaire

2. An exploration of the student’s INTERESTS and PERSONALITY

3. One 90-minute coaching session where we explore the career results and identify the path forward

4. Realistic solutions that work for the INDIVIDUAL, not the school – all options are on the table, such as University, Polytech, gap year, part-time study, apprenticeship, internship, or work experience

5. A holistic approach to career selection – our career choice impacts our wellbeing, our mental health, the way we see ourselves, so all these aspects need to be considered.

Hi I'm Tracey Beard, the Chief Encouragement Officer at Career Matters. I believe that students and young adults need better support in exploring their career options, so I'm using powerful contemporary tools to do this, along with 1:1 coaching with the student and their parents. You can reach me at @careermattersnz, or

5. A holistic approach to career selection – our career choice impacts our wellbeing, our mental health, the way we see ourselves, so all these aspects need to be considered.

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