Career decisions in a post-COVID world
When I began thinking about writing tips and advice for HSC students, one of the first topics that came to mind was this one. After all, choosing a career direction is hard enough without a global pandemic in the mix. But how is it possible to give advice to school leavers in 2020, when nobody has any clue what the world will look like in a year’s time, let alone the next 40-50 years that the current year 12’s will spend in the workforce?
Well, I’m going to (tentatively) try anyway, but know that choosing a career path is an intensely personal decision. There are no guidebooks or formulas, and every pathway will be unique. Here are some thoughts about deciding on what to do after high school.
The path will not always be straight
Some school leavers are absolutely certain about the career that they want; most are not. Some go into medicine and follow a straight-ahead pre-designated career track for the next decade. Others discover their true passion in university and may decide to switch degrees. Yet others figure it out later in life and when they courageously change careers, they often succeed rapidly as a result of their passion, motivation and prior life experience.
Remember it’s okay to be unsure and to take time to explore your options. It’s also totally okay if you end up changing your mind later – your UAC preferences do not have to define the entirety of the rest of your life. Success is not measured by where you are in your career compared to peers of the same age; success is about figuring out what will make you happy and working hard to pursue it.
Consider key transferable skills
COVID19 has forced as all to live with uncertainty. How can we equip ourselves with skills that are needed in the future workforce if we don’t know what those skills are?
Well, actually, we do have some idea of those skills. Healthcare, naturally, is something we rely on now more than ever. Information technology and communication are clearly important too, now that the entire world has moved its operations online. And there’s data management – collecting, analysing and reporting data is crucial for our efforts in surveillance and contact tracing. It’s not only public health data either. A lot of new information is emerging in this time, and someone’s going to have to analyse it. For instance: how are people’s spending habits changed by the pandemic (and therefore how should businesses adapt)?
But it isn’t just about choosing an industry that we think will offer some element of job stability. That’s not enough. Your university years need to be spend honing transferable key skills that any employer will be needing – skills like adaptability, creativity, leadership, communication, computer skills, data literacy and a strong ability to learn. Keep this in mind when choosing a degree, and also when you are actually doing the degree.
Does it spark joy?
I haven’t actually watched any Marie Kondo, but I do love the phrase ‘spark joy’. It is so very appropriate for the current conundrum. The brutal fact of the matter is that you will spend a lot of your life at work. Even if we unrealistically assume that you only work 40 hours a week and take 4 weeks of holidays in a year, that’s 1920 hours spent at work in a year! So choose something that ‘sparks joy’ for you.
Now, that’s easier said than done, because how are you supposed to know if you enjoy something if you’ve never done it? The answer is: you can’t. But you can do some research and make a fairly educated guess. Think about what subjects you enjoy at school and what career options could stem from those subjects. If you can, talk to people in those professions to get a sense of what a day in their life looks like. Ask them about what they like and dislike about their job, and how they got to where they are now. Can you imagine yourself in their shoes? Would you enjoy that kind of work?
It’s a scary world out there, and there are no easy answers. But don’t be afraid, be excited. A wonderful adventure awaits.