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With today’s primary and secondary school students likely to have three, four or even five different careers during their lifetime, it is never too early to start learning about the various professions and occupation choices open to them. So says Own Academy, which aims to kindle students' curiosity about the future and encourage them to start honing the relevant skills needed to succeed in life.
The recent Own Future Fair, organised by Own Academy with media partner South China Morning Post's Education Post, is a good example of how students are given opportunities to discover what it takes to prepare for a future career, says founder Natalie Chan. She explains that a key aim of the Own Future Fair concept is not just to provide pre-teens and young teenagers with career insights, but also to enable them to explore career paths that fit their character and personality.
"We wanted to offer an event where pre-teen and young teenagers could be inspired, but also able to gain a realistic view of what different professions entail,’’ says Chan. She adds that careers in many professions are often glamorised while the less attractive aspects are not often talked about.
Students in the 8-14-year-old age range and their parents attending the Own Future Fair, could listen to first-hand accounts from 30 young entrepreneurs and professionals from the worlds of finance, medicine, hospitality, the arts, sport, design education, and business start-ups; there was even an explorer. The event also featured ‘’parents’’ sessions which focused on the mindfulness of parenting, raising critical thinkers, dealing with the fear of failure and the importance of play.
Parents and students from more than 40 local and international schools attended the free-of-charge, all-day event, the first staged by Own Academy and Education Post.
Chan is quick to point out that Own Future Fair events are not intended to compete with school career guidance counselling, but instead offer an additional chance for young people to learn about the future opportunities open to them and what it takes to achieve them.
For example, brand marketing expert, producer, TV chef and host Christian Yang, revealed to his young audience how he started his career with a major five-star hotel, attended international culinary schools, and opened and closed restaurants, before finally discovering his niche. He also explained how the tough and demanding hospitality industry is only a career choice for those who are totally committed. ‘’You are always saying yes to everyone, never no,’’ Yang explains.
Meanwhile, Shormi Ahmed, head of arts at Duddells restaurant, which arranges art lectures, talks, screenings and exhibitions, dispelled the misconception of time spent attending glamorous gatherings at exhibition openings. Instead, Ahmed says, a lot of time is spent on logistics and planning. Sometimes, during the lead-up to a major exhibition, she can work more than 24 hours without a break.
After listening to Ahmed and Yang’s presentations, 13-year-old Shatin College student Elton Lam and his sister Abby, both agreed that the event was fun and informative. ‘’I now realise there are different ways to find a job where you can use the things that you are good at,’’ notes Lam.
Sidney Tang, described by one of his teachers as a ‘’good student’’ but never a straight A one, is a registered architect working for Sun Hung Kai Properties. Tang's young audience listened enthralled as he detailed how ‘’curiosity’’ and persistence won him a National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) honours award for his 3D-printed vision for a cost-effective Mars habitat built from materials found on the Red Planet. Tang says an important life lesson he has learned is to focus on the things you are good at and let these act as your career guide.
An added attraction of the Future Fair, according to Chan, is that students from different schools and education systems are able to mingle and discuss careers and professions that interest them. Some may consider the 8-14 year age group too young to be thinking seriously about career choices, Chan says a pre-teen or teenager has a chance to look at a variety of occupations without the commitment they may have later on. Also, teenagers interested in a particular career path find the time will be closing in when they need to make their International Baccalaureate (IB) or curriculum choices.
Chan says presenters were asked to describe their career path and include the ups and downs. Even though any thoughts of a specific career are some distance away for students attending the fair, Chan says it is important for young people to understand that following a career path is not always a smooth passage. In several cases, presenters explained how they started out planning to become a professional in one area, only to move to another.
Chan is a confirmed believer that character and personality must fit with a chosen career, and that this should be acknowledged and encouraged at an early age. ‘’I have friends who loathe their jobs, but are too afraid to change careers because they have been taught from an early age to avoid risk,’’ says Chan, who qualified as an engineer before joining Big Four professional services firm Deloitte, and then moving into education. She also worked in television and on various initiatives including book and website design, social and multimedia project, and is now studying for her master's degree in education.
"From my own experience at school and university, I know I was not prepared for the working environment, and it was only when I started working that I realised I would need to make some big changes in my career to find the direction where my true passion lies, which is in education that helps young people identify their character and choose their own future," Chan says.