With the new school year under way, many South African adolescents are living with the reality of important decisions that they made towards the end of 2016. Specifically, Grade 10’s will be discovering whether or not they are satisfied with the subject choices that they committed to, and new school leavers will be wrangling with the choices they have made about their future. Grade 9’s will probably be imagining what subjects they will choose towards the end of this year and Grade 11’s and 12’s will no doubt be thinking about such things as university applications and career choices.

Choosing a career is one of the most significant choices that an individual will make in his or her life time. This choice starts at the tender age of only about 14, when subject choices either open or close doors on a wide variety of potential career choices. The biggest moment however, is when adolescents reach Grade 11 and 12 when they have to decide whether or not to apply for University and which course or direction to pursue. Essentially, adolescents of 16, 17, 18 are expected to make a life defining choice that will influence the rest of their lives. So, how do we know whether or not an adolescent is actually ready to make a career choice?

Research has been done into the concept of career maturity. This is actually quite a complex concept but it essentially boils down to whether or not the individual knows enough about themselves and their interests, as well as the realities of the world of work, to make an informed decision about their career. Fortunately, this research has shed some light onto what characteristics make an adolescent more likely to display career maturity. A career mature individual:

  1. Displays emotional stability
  2. Has a well adjusted home life
  3. Has good relationships with others
  4. Has higher levels of self-confidence, self-esteem and self-control
  5. Are more outgoing and “spontaneously participate in events, discussions and tasks…(are) focussed on getting tasks done, are generally assertive and astute in nature, are adventurous in their outlook on life and have a practical rather than an imaginative approach
  6. Does not delay completing important tasks and has good time management skills which enable them to meet their academic demands
  7. Has good study habits and a positive attitude towards education and work
  8. Possesses an internal locus of control – in other words, they take ownership of themselves and take more responsibility in securing their future

No link was made with cognitive ability. In other words, the intelligence of the child does not matter so much as how the child applies him/herself. Age was found to be a factor, with individual’s between the ages of 19 and 24 displaying greater levels of career maturity than younger people.

This research is useful in that it can broaden our perspective on how to help children who are facing a lot of indecision about their careers. Perhaps they would be better able to make a decision regarding their career if their home life was more stable, they had better relationships with others and their self-esteem was improved? Perhaps they require assistance with study skills or time management? Perhaps they are too quick to blame others and do not take sufficient accountability for their own actions? This research helps us to understand that interest and passion in a certain field of study are not sufficient when it comes to making the important decision of which career to pursue. It is a much broader issue and any problems with it, may require a broader solution.