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Insights on money, career and trading

LifeSkills campaign: Guide teens to the right job

Posted on August 7, 2013 by Daniel at 3:12 am

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Your children may follow your career path, or find their own way – just be supportive with friendly advice, says Daniel Allen

Somewhere between the traps of overly pushy parenting and extreme nonintervention lies a thin trail that leads one’s children to a rewarding career and job satisfaction. The trick for parents is knowing when to intervene and when to let their child find his or her own way, even if it means missed turnings, dead ends or long detours.

Joe Middleton has a closer view than many parents of his son’s career progression. Joe is a veteran of the clothing industry and his work has taken him round the world. In the United States he came across a new way of selling clothes based on the assumption that men hate shopping. He thought it would work in the UK and the result is The Chapar, where high street-averse chaps work online with personal stylists to build their look and then select clothes from a trunk delivered to their door. And Joe has placed day-to-day responsibility for developing the business in the hands of his 25-year-old son, Sam.

“I’d decided to set up The Chapar and had been talking about it at home,” Joe says. “I was putting the business plan together and was about to hire professional management. But Sam came home and said: ‘What about me?’ ”

At the time, Sam was working in marketing after completing a degree in economics, but over the years something about his father’s career and his approach to it has rubbed off on him. “Seeing him work in the industry, I was inspired by him and wanted to emulate him,” Sam says.

Research undertaken for the LifeSkills campaign shows that it is parents who have the most influence over young people’s career choices. Nearly 30 per cent of teenagers surveyed said that their mum and dad were the people most likely to help them to achieve their goals. Only 20 per cent said the same of teachers and 4 per cent mentioned their local careers service.

For Sam and Joe the biggest benefit of working together is mutual trust. “Trust is not something you can take for granted in business,” Sam says, although he acknowledges that the positives and negatives are intertwined. “The flipside of trust is that you know each other so well,” he says. Joe “knows all my weaknesses”.

Nick Metcalfe offers compelling evidence for the influence of family on career choices. Nick was considering a degree in geography when he took what he says was a “late decision” to follow in the footsteps of his father — and his uncle, aunt and three cousins, all of whom are chiropractors.

As a child, Nick was aware of his father’s profession but perhaps, like many children, was not actively interested in what it involved. “For Dad, work was work and home was home. I knew he was a chiropractor and never really questioned it, but I did know that he loved his job and he does still.”

He went to observe his dad at work in his clinic and made up his mind. Now fully qualified, Nick has his own practice in Staines, which he runs with his chiropractor girlfriend. But he also practises at the clinic in New Malden run by his father and uncle.

With one sibling a GP, another a vet and a mother who works with victims of domestic violence, Nick and his family seem pre-programmed to care.

“There must be something in there about wanting to help people,” Nick says.

Of course, parental influence works in reverse as well and may steer a child away from following their mum or dad’s career. The parents of Carrie Longton, co-founder of Mumsnet, the online forum for parents, were both teachers but, she says, the teaching gene “passed me by”.

Growing up near Blackpool, Lancashire, she says that while her parents had “a love in their heart” for other people’s children and an instinctive ability to hold a classroom, she knew by watching them at work that her own career would not follow theirs. She never attained her dream job as a presenter on Blue Peter, but she did have a successful career in television before launching Mumsnet.

She says that the oldest of her children, her 14-year-old daughter, has “no idea” yet what she wants to do in life. “But it’s very difficult even to know what’s out there. The best thing we can do as parents is expose them to as many career options as possible. I would like my children to look at things I don’t do, and then I think it’s about managing your child’s dreams without crushing them.”

In fact, teenagers may manage their own dreams fairly successfully. A study two years ago by the Joseph Rowntree Foundation suggests that young people’s aspirations are not, for the most part, unrealistic. At 13 they may think that Premier League footballer or “celebrity” are the only jobs worth getting out of bed for but, by 15, they are much more pragmatic. The study also suggests that regardless of background — deprived or more affluent — young people’s ambitions, for education and work, are high. More problematic is finding a pathway to realising those ambitions. As Carrie Longton says, knowing what is out there is half the battle.

Christopher Money’s teenage dreams of football stardom slowly dissolved as reality set in and now, like Sam Middleton, he is working with his father and launching Mamabloom, an online store for baby products.

While he was growing up, Christopher watched his father’s success, rising from personal assistant to company director. “My dad is my mentor. I speak to him every other day,” Christopher says. “He always instilled in me, ‘Just go for it’ and gave me freedom to do what I wanted to do.” Does he ever disagree with his father about business? “Absolutely. We don’t always see eye to eye, but that works in our favour because we are able to be honest with one another.”

Now a father himself, Christopher says that he will encourage his own children to “just go for it”. “I’ll be the same with them. I’d like them to make their own way in the world but if they want to come and join their dad, great.”

Christopher began working with his father after exploring other options, but some children are so steeped in their parents’ working world that it is almost unthinkable for them to look beyond it. Alice ter Haar’s mother, Lisa, has worked in public relations for more than 30 years and Alice, who at 25 is now a senior account manager in a marketing agency, says: “It’s no surprise to me that I have ended up doing what I’m doing.”

Alice worked for her mother’s agency when she left university but, even as a young child during school holidays, she would stick stamps on envelopes containing press releases that Lisa was dispatching to journalists. And when Lisa was promoting a stop-smoking product, the young Alice was interviewed on breakfast television about her mother’s efforts to quit.

“She’s always been a hard-working mum,” Alice says. “I didn’t like it when I was a child, but it did show me that working hard brought results.”

So after thinking of becoming either a midwife or an actress, Alice is following in her mother’s footsteps after working out that it was right for her. “It’s not very constructive to force people out of their choices,” she says. “It’s much better for them to come to decisions on their own.”

Win the experience of a lifetime

The Times has teamed up with Barclays to support its LifeSkills campaign. By 2015, LifeSkills aims to equip 1,000,000 young people with the skills they need for work and to connect them with opportunities to experience work. As part of the campaign, LifeSkills this week is launching a competition that will give 14 to 19-year-olds the chance to win a special work experience place.

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