Excellence in parental engagement with careers – how can we positively engage all families?
07 Aug 2023
Parents are arguably the biggest influencers on a young person’s career decision making – whether that’s helping to choose subject options, further and higher education destinations, or career pathways. As the scope of career options becomes more diverse, it’s therefore increasingly vital that parents are guided through this process and shown how to support their children to make informed decisions.
Careers Excellence Seminars are a series of discussions organised by The Careers & Enterprise Company (CEC), supported by The Gatsby Foundation. These events are forums in which careers educators, at the forefront of best practice, meet to share their insights for shaping the futures of young people today. This seminar, hosted at the Barbican Centre, focused on how to meaningfully and effectively engage all parents with careers education.
Below is a summary of some of the key takeaways from the seminar. Alternatively, you can view the full recording here.
The use of the term ‘parents’ in this article represents a shorthand for the broader spectrum of individuals with caregiving responsibilities to young people in education.
The CEC supports Careers Leaders to improve parental engagement through Talking Futures: a joint project with the Gatsby Foundation that aims to equip parents with the tools to have impartial and constructive careers conversations with their children.
Many parents may have preconceptions about possible job prospects and educational pathways, based on their personal experiences of education and work, and these can be out of sync with the aspirations and experiences of young people. In addition, with education and employment rapidly changing, many sectors and roles now exist that were previously unthinkable. Bridging these gaps in generational thinking and increasing understanding of the changing labour market, are key areas where effective parental engagement can have an impact.
Learning with Parents – a charity with expertise in parental engagement and a member of the CEC’s steering group – champions the fact that parental engagement challenges can be overcome. They firmly believe that ‘no parent or carer walks around thinking of themselves as hard to reach’, so schools and colleges should avoid this perception and offer parents tailored approaches to their individual needs.
We must remember that parents aren’t a homogenous group of people, and what works when engaging with one community may not necessarily work with another. Just like with pupils, a deeper awareness of these different parental needs is necessary when seeking greater family engagement.
In this sense, every education institution should strive to define the specific needs of its parents to maximise the impact of key messaging and its engagement approach. Once this definition is established, a tailored and differentiated strategy can then be constructed around the most effective ways to generate a positive impact on parental engagement in careers.
The panellists and audience at this year’s Careers Excellence Seminar shared some innovative strategic approaches that have helped them to successfully engage parents with careers education in their own contexts:
- Every touchpoint with parents across a young person’s educational journey is an opportunity to engage about careers. Prioritising an open dialogue at all key stages will gradually improve parents’ confidence in supporting their child with important choices. Placing strategic emphasis on transition points from an early age – including the jump from primary school to secondary school – allows parents to recognise the value of their voices during critical times.
- Don’t be afraid to ask parents about their communication preferences. Responding proactively to their needs will make their voices feel heard and encourage them to engage. Adapting direct-to-parent messaging for use across multiple platforms will help build a mutual relationship that will further benefit the young people involved.
- Never underestimate the power of utilising marketing, admin and pastoral teams to achieve full-institution buy-in. Involving all stakeholders and being persistent with key messaging across the team over time increases the resources available when conducting parental outreach – reducing the sole burden on the Careers Leader.
- Recognise that parents aren’t the only opinion-makers impacting aspirations and decisions at home – older siblings, grandparents and broader family members can also have influence. Understanding these family dynamics through pastoral support networks can help to determine what bespoke tools are required when engaging with parents.
- Parents want to understand all the options available to their child, so a way to directly advocate for different pathways is to facilitate parental encounters with employers, alumni and workplace experiences. If possible, inviting parents of alumni to careers events can offer a relatable point of contact for the parents of the current cohort. Educating parents about all possible routes, such as apprenticeships and T Levels, will help address any biases that sometimes prevent them from having effective careers conversations with their children.
- Hosting meaningful events is a fantastic way to appeal to parents and young people, but maximising attendance can be challenging. Adding career-based elements to mandatory parent-teacher evenings can make these provisions more accessible, making scheduling easier. Alternatively, meeting parents in community spaces rather than at the school or college can improve their comfort levels when engaging with education. Providing catering and childcare while also engaging key members of the community can also have a positive impact on attendance levels. Afterwards, encouraging parents to feedback on the sessions will help to measure impact and shape the nature of future events.
- From an employer’s perspective, it’s valuable to directly provide employees – many of whom are parents themselves – with up-to-date information about the career paths available in their industry. This employee audience is often overlooked and can be an effective channel for promoting careers conversations between parents and their children who are preparing for their next step.