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How to: engaging parents in career guidance activity

When parents are active participants in their childrens’ career education, it makes a huge difference in outcomes. Yet engaging parents remains a universal challenge for careers professionals. Familiar faces take up opportunities and attend events, whereas the elusive ones… remain elusive.

Many counsellors have never studied or worked in marketing. Yet they often find themselves acting like marketers, running mini-campaigns for the school’s career guidance activity. Some might feel they didn’t sign up for this part of the role. But if counsellors can become more comfortable wearing their marketer hat, the connection with parents will be stronger and more rewarding.

Planning events – from start to finish

As ever, planning and messaging are key. Regular check-ins with the parent community are a good idea. Counsellors can ask them what kind of event or information would suit them best, and offer flexibility with meeting times.

For busy parents (which parent isn’t busy?), earlier and later slots are often the most convenient. However, parents are unlikely to be one homogenous group with identical needs, so counsellors should be prepared to repeat key events or adapt the format. Many counsellors have reported that online events have been well attended, and have actually increased overall engagement. Online events can also be recorded, where appropriate, presenting an opportunity to reach even more parents.

In terms of content, again it is a good idea to ask parents what would be useful. Some perennial favourites include:

  • New education/ career developments i.e. what has changed since they were at school
  • The jobs/ employment trends of the future
  • Careers linked to subjects – where can your child’s favourite school subject(s) lead them?

“When inviting parents into events, I’ve found it helps to be very clear on the purpose of the event and what the parents (and students) will gain from attending. Then, of course, make sure you deliver on those specifics.

Similarly, if you’re inviting speakers to present at events, always be crystal clear on the brief and check the content of any presentation to ensure it meets the needs and expectations of the parents attending.”

Careers counsellor, UK

During an in-person event, refreshments are often appreciated as parents may have come straight from a long busy day at work or skipped their lunchbreak to attend. It also helps to consider the needs of your specific school community, e.g. is it appropriate to provide interpreters or dual language content? Other suggestions include leaving plenty of time for questions, listening carefully, showing empathy where possible and using clear, simple language in responses. Parents often benefit from the reassurance that there is no such thing as a silly question.

Gaining feedback about events will provide invaluable insights and help counsellors to ensure future events meet the needs of their audience. Again, this is relatively simple for virtual events as online polls are now so easy to set up. It can be helpful to ask specific questions rather than inviting free text. E.g:

  • What was helpful about the event/meeting?
  • What was their main takeaway?
  • What two things would have made it more relevant / engaging?

The ongoing conversation

Even the most beautifully crafted communications need to actually reach their audience, in order to have an effect. Some parents will read the school newsletter. Other’s won’t, but they might see a post on Facebook. Counsellors would do well to make the most of all appropriate channels and to regularly review them. These may include:

  • Letters home
  • Articles in parents’ newsletter/e-shots
  • Text messages
  • Posters and displays
  • Career events
  • Presentations at parents’ meetings
  • Individual consultations
  • Questionnaires
  • Leaflets and booklets
  • Careers pages on the school website / careers posts on the blog
  • Social media / microblogging – Twitter, Facebook, Linked In, Instagram
  • Discussions with any parent associations
  • Networking / making the most of impromptu conversation opportunities

Regardless of the format, all communications should be double-checked to ensure they are relevant, timely, easy to understand and free of educational jargon. Regular, bitesize communications can be easier for parents to keep track of than large amounts of information sent occasionally. As with any communication project, time can often slip away so it’s worth preparing the communication earlier than might seem necessary. Furthermore,  there can be a surprising amount of competition for space in communications channels: this is another reason to plan ahead.

Taking further inspiration from the marketing world, the more counsellors can demonstrate that they understand their audience and their needs, the better. For parents, showing appreciation for the fact that they are very busy, in the ways we’ve discussed, is always welcomed.

Appreciating that parents themselves have their own expertise can be of similar value, and enrich connections. Many parents may be keen to engage on a more practical level. Some may be happy to share their own career story or take part in a Q&A with students/families. Others may be able to offer opportunities for work shadowing and experience.

Ultimately, careers guidance is a family activity. A high quality careers education supports the well-being of the whole family. Hopefully we have given you some ideas for creating, and nurturing, that all-important three-way conversation between careers professionals, parents and students.

Engaging with parents: a checklist

Download a checklist of key ideas from this article and keep them for reference:

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