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Chalking out the future

It’s that time of the year again when students are mulling the options before them. The board exam season is drawing to a close, and the youngsters are trying to figure out what their next career move should be. Until some years ago, the choices were limited, confined to engineering, medicine, academics and other such conventional avenues. A few families did gather the courage and resources to send their children abroad where they could branch out to less traditional fields.

But today, students are bombarded with choice. New institutes are emerging and existing ones dishing out novel courses. However, in reality, the Gen-Y child doesn’t have it so easy — for there exists a problem of plenty.

This is where career planning as a serious process steps in. Recently, Gray Matters Consulting Pvt. Ltd, the Calcutta-based career consultancy firm, conducted a survey on the career decision making process of children. The team surveyed 692 professionals in 75 organisations to find out the factors that had influenced the parents’ career decisions, and the kind of support they gave their children in this regard.

SURVEY HIGHLIGHTS

45 per cent of respondents say career planning should begin in Class IX-X

Over 25 per cent of parents want it to start in Class VII-VIII

Respondents over 50 want planning to be delayed as compared to younger parents

Parents’ income is not related to the time they’d like it to begin

“In our times, professional lives were more about doing what you had to do well, establishing yourself in the organisation and making a success of that,” says Sanjay Roy Chowdhury, managing director, Gray Matters, and a principal investigator of the survey. “But as life has become more evolved, connected, and complex, young people are inextricably linked with the rest of the world.”

The survey results may come as a surprise to many. The team found that most students start to think about their career from as early as Class IX or X.

Some experts agree with this concern. Says Dipankar Sarkar, principal of Patha Bhavan School, Calcutta, “In our system, one has to start planning early because once you choose a stream you cannot switch.” If a student takes up arts in Plus Two, he or she cannot shift to engineering or biotechnology later.

According to career counsellor Pervin Malhotra, the tenth standard is the ideal time to begin career planning. “One critical landmark is when a student chooses his or her stream in Plus Two. If you end up in the wrong one, it may be disastrous,” she warns. At this stage, children may not know about specific areas such as geoinformatics or computational biology, but they may at least realise that science is their core strength, she explains.

The career planning needs of high school students are very different from those of college going ones. In school, the issue centres on understanding who you are and what you are good at. Knowing which stream to take up has to do a lot with self-awareness, which usually sets in around this time. As Roy Chowdhury says, “The first step in career planning is understanding oneself.”

In fact, it’s an ongoing process that allows you to rethink and re-evaluate yourself and your options as you grow and develop. “The process should start in Class IX and continue until the student finds the best fit,” says Salony Priya, counselling psychologist and educational consultant.

Anjana Saha, principal of Shaw Public School, Calcutta, agrees but adds that these thoughts become more serious in classes XI and XII.

“Actually, it all depends on the individual,” says Ishan Pandey, a student of Lakshmipat Singhania Academy, Calcutta.

“It should start the moment a person realises what he or she wants to do. Waiting until the board exams are over means dealing with family pressures and societal expectations.”

Indeed, in India, career planning depends on many factors. Apart from parents, siblings and peers, the school plays an important role. “A student of La Martiniere may start way ahead of a student from a lesser known institute,” says Rajiv Agarwal of Edudigm, a start-up by Indian Institute of Technology, Kharagpur, alumni that offers mentoring for IIT-JEE. The resources and environment of every school too are different.

Another major factor is socio-economic class, points out Malhotra. If a student has a home environment that fosters career planning, he or she will be motivated to start early. A situation where parents do not encourage discussions about the child’s future may not be conducive to career planning.

“Is there a strong correlation between a young and successful parent and eagerness to start career discussions with her child early? The numbers point to that,” says Debkumar Mitra, CEO, Education and Knowledge Management Services, Gray Matters, and a principal investigator of the survey.

However, there may be a tendency among zealous young parents to over-analyse. “One should not become lost in the dynamics of one’s child’s career selection process, or one’s performance in it,” says Ayantika Paul, senior consultant, Gray Matters, and a principal investigator of the survey. “Focus more on what’s happening with your child, less on what and how much you are doing.”

Parental involvement may also assume the shape of pressure. “In West Bengal, generally, it’s not the students who do the career planning. In most cases, parents thrust their choice on their offspring,” says Basudeb Bhattacharya, former principal of Hariyana Vidya Mandir, Calcutta. “The need of the hour is to have counselling for parents so that they are able to guide in the right manner.” Bhattacharya is currently the director of Angel Education Society and Monami Education Trust, Calcutta.

“My daughter wanted to be an architect ever since she was in Class V. I am happy she has been so clear since such a young age,” says a survey respondent whose child is in Class VII.

Well, architecture or adventure, flute or fashion, today’s children clearly have strong likes and dislikes. And that may help later, for when it comes to career planning, it’s never too early.

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