Parents & Carers: Shaping Career Conversations

Educating parents and carers: the role of parents and carers in career conversations  

Elnaz Kashefpakdel and Fiona Long  

Parents and carers are vital partners in their child’s education; their support and involvement are crucial. In fact, their involvement actively contributes to improved outcomes for young people. This is the case generally in education attainment and academic success as well as other equally important aspects such as career development and future transitions into further/higher education and employment. 

We are not short of evidence underlining the vital role of career education in supporting young people’s education and employment outcomes and developing social and emotional skills. Much has been done to concentrate on school-mediated career-related activities that target a wide range of learning outcomes for children and young people. 

Some education institutions capitalise on parental engagement to support their student’s career development. But this area has been slightly overlooked over the years despite positive achievements and recognition of parents’ role in broader social mobility discussions.  

Why involve parents and carers: influence over shaping aspiration, expectation and children’s agency  

Previous research shows that parents and carers influence young people’s aspirations and expectations, which is sometimes majorly connected with what they did themselves as an occupation and other socio-economic factors1. This has implications for intergenerational mobility; if you want the same things you have done for your children without reflecting on the changing nature of the education and employment sector or their personal skill sets, there are imitations in what we can expect from children’s progress.

It is the fact that parents and carers have such a significant role in their children’s success that the research literature suggests that they need to be educated alongside their children, especially when it comes to access to the insight and information to support young people’s decisions about their future careers and education pathways2. It is hugely important, especially for parents far from the job market or those out of work.

In addition to influencing aspirations and expectations, the homelife setting can also impact young people’s early development, which can go on to affect their identity and curiosity to learn and explore new things. At later stages, this can take a different form, including passing on information about opportunities for self-development, which could help empower them to take on more experiences or be more proactive in finding opportunities to grow. Yet again, parents’ ability to do so relates to other factors mentioned above.

Parental engagement in career education could happen at home or in parentship with education institutions and teachers, and existing approaches are designed to use each space to educate and support parents uniquely. But it is evident that we can’t afford to ignore them as young people value their parents’ input in their decision-making (even if it is subconscious), and they can act as role models for their children.

What worked in the past  

There are great examples of ways in which parents have been positively engaged to make an impact on their children’s development. Parents can attend classes and workshops on child development, communication, discipline, and decision-making. This can help them to develop the skills and knowledge they need to be effective parents and support their teenagers.

Many communities offer parenting programs to help parents support their teenagers. These programs may include workshops, support groups, or counselling services. Online resources can provide them with general information and address specific issues that may concern them. Another approach a wide range of organisations takes is networking with other parents. Parents can seek out other parents of teenagers in their community through a support group or online forum to share information and advice and offer mutual support.

And finally, recent evidence shows that encouraging open communication between parents and teenagers could work effectively. This method is suggested for promoting reading and  

according to the research carried out by Warwick University3, parental engagement in career education works most effectively when it is done in partnership with schools/colleges. Fostering a sense of partnership and shared responsibility could result in great outcomes. Clear communication with targeted career resources and workshops for parents and their children are highlighted as best practices.

Speakers for Schools pilot parents and carers event  

The good news is that according to Parentkind, 85% of parents want to play an active role in their child’s education. This figure has remained high across all past research and suggests that parents’ interest in meaningful participation in their child’s schooling is nearly universal.4 As a social mobility charity, our mission is to use every means at our disposal to level the playing field in access to inspiration opportunities for young people to empower and support them to achieve their potential, and this is no exception. 

At Speakers for Schools, we recognise the importance of parents’ role and firmly believe that one way to raise young people’s participation in our career-related learning activities is to support and educate parents about what is on offer. This has resulted in our effort to connect with parents in a pilot virtual open evening where over 700 parents and carers from every corner of the UK joined our team to hear about our work and what we have to offer their children.  

Our first UK wide Virtual Open Evening was a relaxed presentation from the SFS team, joined with 3 of our key employer partners; Tesco, NHS and Bentley. Parents and carers were able to hear about the opportunities these employers host with SFS, the early career pathways and most importantly the value they place on meaningful work experience for young people and how to access it. The aim was to provide a range and contrast of career pathways and industry sectors.

Parents’ feedback was impressively positive  

We designed a survey for participants to gain insight into their views about the event and what they found helpful. The survey result was significantly positive, which validates that parents and carers are keen on ways to support their children so they make more informed decisions about their futures and develop the skills that would help them succeed in the transition to employment and the possibilities ahead of them through career activities at school.

73% of parents rated the event 5 Stars for receiving clear guidance and instructions on how young people can access opportunities through Speakers for Schools. 77% of parents and carers rated the event top marks for interesting and relevant content and focus.

When asking parents what they took away from the event, 8 out of 10 parents agreed that they learned more about the employment opportunities and entry routes from the employers represented.  

Employers and our Engagement team highlighted our work experience programme during the event. We aimed to inform participating parents and carers about the opportunities available to their teenagers through our work with partner schools and colleges. This was reflected in the feedback from parents, with 76% strongly agreeing that the event helped them understand why meaningful work experience is important for the young people in their care.

They also heard about how Speakers for Schools uses remote and digital experiences to overcome geographical barriers and other challenges young people, educators and employers face from more traditional in-person experiences. 74% of parents were confident or very confident that they understood the value of virtual experiences with employers as much as in-person opportunities after the event.

What’s Next for Us? 

This is just the start of Speakers for Schools plans for empowering parents and carers in supporting their teenagers decision making. The pilot Virtual Open Evening will be followed by a second event on June 7th (supported this time by Boots, PWC and Willmott Dixon) along with a new UK wide Parent and Carer newsletter. There will be a further programme of events in the new academic year alongside a regular, termly newsletter. The parent and carer page of the website is being developed to include relevant and pertinent resources and sign posting to other support. The Engagement Team will continue to meet parents through school and college events and now be able to signpost them to the new resources we are developing.

Many colleagues at Speakers for Schools are parents and carers themselves; all too aware of the feeling of being lost or powerless in encouraging good decision making from the young people in our care. Our long-term aim in our work with parents and carers is that they feel they have an ally and are better informed about the opportunities available, the value of them and the ease of access to them.