Johannesburg - As Grade 12 learners are on the verge of writing their final exams, the transition from the structured environment of high school into what comes next is a daunting prospect.
And for those who are still unsure about their future, the endless possibilities can cause much anxiety.
What career should they pursue? Which path aligns most closely with their dreams, skills, and values? How do they ensure that their chosen path won't lead to regrets later?
Adrian Garden, Deputy Dean for Teaching and Learning at The Independent Institute of Education’s Rosebank College explained that while career choice is a crucial decision for matriculants that will influence not only their immediate years after school but also potentially determine their success and well-being for decades to come, it is possible to make the decision process easier and more effective.
“The transition from the structured environment of high school to the expansive horizon of what comes next is a challenging one, filled with excitement and anticipation,” he said.
But Garden said that for those Grade 12 learners who are still unsure about their future plans, it can be an extremely anxious and perplexing time.
“Most matric learners who are standing at this critical juncture find themselves balancing the enthusiasm of youth with the responsibilities of impending adulthood, having to make one of the biggest decisions they will ever make in their life,” he said.
“For many, this is the first time they are asked to make significant decisions that will shape their futures. While parents can guide the process, ultimately the buck stops with the matriculant who will have to live with the decision, which can easily lead to analysis paralysis on their part,” Garden said.
“Each decision has ripple effects, influencing their immediate years after school and potentially determining their satisfaction, success, and well-being for decades to come.”
Garden stressed that the decision process can be made easier and more effective by following a few guidelines which will channel into a good choice, rather than just hoping the right idea will arise at some point, he said.
“Through thoughtful, structured exploration and informed decision-making, school leavers can carve out a path that aligns with their aspirations and the ever-evolving demands of the modern world.”
Attempting to understand yourself and what drives you is the first step.
- What am I naturally good at?
- Which school subjects or extracurricular activities resonate with me? What are my core beliefs and values?
“If you are not sure about who you are and what you want to do, there are a few structured assessments that can be illuminating, to help individuals align their intrinsic qualities with potential career paths,” Garden said.
He explained that these include, for instance, the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator (MBTI), the Holland Code, and numerous other free career interest and personality assessments online.
Job market assessment
Garden stressed that it’s important to study the current and future job market, to view your options through a pragmatic lens.
“Research careers in high demand both locally in South Africa and internationally, potential income brackets in various professions along with future earning potential, and the expected longevity of the field and future growth prospects of specific sectors,” he said.
He added that it is also important to match your skills and subject choices with the careers you have an interest in.
“Student support and career services at good higher education institutions are invaluable in this regard – as they will have deep insight into careers of the future, as well as being able to help you match your strengths to specific fields of study.”
Study option: Deep dive
Garden suggested that further study after matric was very likely a crucial stepping-stone to making your dream career a reality.
“But remember that not all institutions and programmes are created equally,” he said.
“So if you have an idea of your area of interest, thoroughly investigate the reputation of the various institutions that offer the qualifications within your field of interest; the content, curriculum and faculty; financial factors that come into play such as tuition fees and living expenses; and campus life, to see if it will be conducive to personal growth and networking.”
Real world deep dive
Garden said that to gain a real-world perspective on your prospective career, connect with mentors and professionals in the field who can give you a better understanding of what the field is like in reality.
“Try to understand day-to-day experiences and potential challenges faced in the role, essential qualifications, skills, and attitudes beneficial for that profession as well as personal stories of lessons learned,” he said. “If possible, try to gain some hands-on experience by seeking out internships and volunteering roles.”
Deal with flux
Garden said that currently, our world comes with a level of uncertainty and unpredictability that can make it so much more difficult to make life-altering decisions.
“This is where resilience and adaptability come in,” he said.
“While one’s choice of study post matric is important, it's a misconception that one's first career choice is permanent. In today's dynamic world, many individuals change careers multiple times. The ability to pivot, adapt and build creatively on your experience is invaluable.”
Make the right choice for you, not others
Garden said that if you are uncertain about your next steps, it can be easy to let the ideas of others and outside forces sweep you in a direction.
“While well-meaning parents, teachers and parents may inadvertently pressure you towards a popular or lucrative career, remember it’s essential to value their advice but balance it against your aspirations and interests,” he said.
“The most successful career is the one where you will feel fulfilled, and which allows you to continue growing.”
He added that at the end of the day, you must take your time and do your research, and then trust your instincts.
“Your journey is unique, and you must remember that choosing and pursuing a fulfilling career is a marathon, not a sprint. Every experience, be it a triumphant success or a challenging setback, will contribute to your tapestry of growth.”