When to assist students with career planning and decision making

Schools can play a vital part in helping students make informed and reasoned career decisions. Teachers designing career development interventions should consider the cognitive skill levels of the target age group.

These include:

  • 5 to 10 years
  • 10 to 15 years
  • Students who are 15 years and above.


Students aged 5 to 10 years

Activities and interventions

For children aged 5 to 10 years, activities or games should include practising and developing executive function skills. This includes:

  • inhibitory control (how to control impulses)
  • working memory
  • working together to build reasoned opinions
  • taking managed risks
  • classroom discussion to learn how to agree on a solution.

Decision-making skills are likely to be developed through activities that help students:

  • practise their ability to stop-and-think
  • to consider the information available to them
  • to prioritise and weigh the evidence
  • make a decision or form an opinion and then modify that decision over time.

Community of inquiry

Community of Inquiry is an activity that gives children the opportunity to practice and develop their executive function skills in their decision-making. Children all come together to peer review a set topic and agree on a solution. Importantly, every child’s contribution is valued.

Students can work on topics that are directly relevant to career planning. For example, Year 7 students did a Community of Inquiry exercise where they discussed marine parks, jobs dependent upon access to the sea and the ways in which marine–related employment is likely to change in the future.


Students aged 10 to 15 years

Activities and interventions

A series of cognitive “growth spurts” during these years push young people toward adult levels of executive functioning. For this group, exercises should be around practising and developing planning skills. This includes:

  • working with scenarios
  • authentic problem-solving using opportunities in the Australian Curriculum
  • enhancing students’ view of themselves as active participants in future education and employment
  • using work experience placements as an opportunity to practise the skills required when choosing steps along a career pathway.

Students of this age are less impulsive and less easily distracted. Use this period to lay the foundation stones of experience and knowledge upon which they will build future decisions.

Encourage planning and thinking

Promote a forward thinking and planning approach to problem solving to help students make career decisions. This process emphasises planning and discourages students from jumping in with little purpose or direction.

For example, when choosing a work experience placement, students should ask themselves the following.

  • How will I decide what work experience to do?
  • What will I need to find out to help me decide?
  • What do I want to get out of it?


Students who are fifteen years old and beyond

Activities and interventions

Supporting young people within the decision-making process is crucially important for this group. Activities and interventions need to be around putting plans into action and maintaining a focus on development.

  • Direct students’ developed planning skills and capacity for abstract thought to make authentic decisions about their future.
  • Support young people to make first step decisions along their career pathway, including making their next academic and vocational education choices.
  • Steer students away from self-categorisation which can lead to negative thoughts and limits students’ options.

Career advisers may need to add some evaluation steps to the career planning process to help young people perform a “reality check” on the potential pros and cons of their decisions.

Focusing on the assessment processes that will lead to final school grades and university entry scores is likely to push students to focus on maximising grades rather than undertaking appropriate learning toward identified goals.

Offering the right amount of support to young people aged 15-to-25 can be difficult. Too little and they might go through the motions of decision making and end up on a particular pathway with little purpose or engagement. Too much and they may be limited to thinking about their career planning processes in terms of bite-sized chunks and miss some of the important subtleties that they could access if left to think on their own.