David Thompson Secondary Students Consider a Bright Career Future

While many people only begin seriously mapping out their goals in the early to mid-years of their professional life (or after a real or imagined career crisis), some students at David Thompson Secondary School are getting a head start thanks to a new innovative career conference.

Launched by their principal Iona Whishaw with the help of career counsellor Jacky Mulder, this year's David Thompson Career Conference was sparked by evidence that Whishaw saw presented at an education conference in San Antonio, Texas. At the conference, Whishaw was inspired by a workshop led by a principal from a poor neighbourhood in Los Angeles. The principal explained how simple goal setting at the age of Grade 9 had led to a significant increase in his class' eventual graduation rate. The act of focussing on a goal/career and mapping out what's needed to achieve it worked wonders for many of the school's urban students.

While David Thompson is not an inner city school, Whishaw discerned that the principles could be just as valuable to her students.

This year's Career Conference drew roughly 300 Grade 8 students, 55 mentors (or panellists) and a handful of Grade 12 students to facilitate the conference's workshops. During the daylong session at David Thompson, students had the opportunity to explore a variety of different sectors by asking candid question of local professionals from a wide range of fields of work including trades, film, art and design, air traffic, business and commerce, journalism, health, enforcement and hospitality (to name just a few). You can read more about the conference from a panellist's point of view in the Vancouver Sun.

After talking to panellists in at least two sectors, students were then tasked with developing their own personalized career plan. While there's discussion about the value of building a career plan for a job that may (or may not) exist yet, it is clear that the practice of thinking about what fields of work you want to work in and how you're going to get there is a transferable skill that can used long into the future. With this in mind, students were tasked with researching the required courses and post-secondary education requirements they'd need to enter the profession they were most curious about. They were also asked to outline the type of skills they'd need to hone in order to help their future employment prospects.

It was clear to Whishaw that what a student thought was interesting in Grade 8 might drastically change by the time they got to Grade 12. With this in mind, everyone was encouraged to modify/update their plan yearly. While the goals will evolve, Whishaw says she felt the practice of consciously mapping it out in an organized and thoughtful manner will yield significant dividends for her students in the future.

The event turned out to be a big hit with the Grade 8 students who voted with their feet. Attendance for the workshops was at a record level and Whishaw says feedback forms with overwhelmingly positive. She says she plans to arrange another conference next year. 

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