Before you panic, don’t worry – this isn’t a parenting advice blog! (I’m not that brave!!). 

This is the first article in a series of articles about how we can encourage more young people to join the tourism industry (prompted by the recent Tourism Youth Perceptions Research Report). 

As a parent myself, I know parents have a huge part to play in helping their teenagers decide on a career path. And it’s difficult to talk about encouraging more young people into tourism without acknowledging the elephant in the room: parents!

So, here goes: part 1 of improving tourism’s perception problem. I’d love for you to read, think, and send me your feedback. Real change won’t happen in the industry unless we all work together.

What would you do if your child decided to study tourism?

Imagine your teenager skips in the door after school one day, bursting with enthusiasm. They’ve discovered tourism, and they’re hooked. They want to find out more about working in the industry. 

What is your immediate gut reaction?

Are you excited and fully supportive?

Or does your heart sink? 

Do you think: ‘wow, my child would thrive in the tourism industry’? 

Or do you think: ‘my child can do so much better’?

If you’re a bit disappointed, stop for a moment and consider why you feel this way.

You might be surprised to discover that you consider tourism to be a low-skilled, low paying job that is good for other people’s children, but not your own. 

If you feel this way, you’re not alone. 

The recently published Tourism Youth Perceptions Research Report puts in writing what I’ve known to be true for a long time: tourism has a big perception problem

“My school and society in general think it’s a bum subject… the way it’s treated, people are definitely put off,” says one student in the report.

Another says: “I applied for the tourism class and the person running careers said… I’d be wasting my talent, wasting my potential”.

Tourism is New Zealand’s largest export earner, generates $14 billion per year for the New Zealand economy, and employs 1 in 4 people. Yet many young people and their parents think it’s “bum”. 

And now, the tourism industry is nearing crisis point because there are not enough skilled graduates applying for jobs.

Currently, we have over 30 job vacancies listed on our website. There is a huge demand for workers across all sectors of tourism.

This is great news for our students -- who have incredible choice and are going on to begin wonderful careers -- but the tourism industry as a whole is suffering.

So, what can we -- as parents -- do about it?! I’m a parent of two and I understand firsthand what it’s like to feel anxious about my kids career choices (and one of them hasn’t even started high school yet!).

Like you, I want the best for my children, and sometimes it’s challenging not to stereotype certain industries. But, as an education leader, I believe it’s important to stay open-minded. 

Here are some key things I remind myself if I ever feel my ‘judgy-fear-based’ voice sneaking in when my kids show an interest in a subject I’m not familiar with. I hope these things help you, too. 

University is not one-size-fits-all

Young people today have SO many choices. Internships, apprenticeships, certificates, diplomas, straight in to work, -- the list goes on. University is just one option; it’s not the only path.

When I was leaving high school, university was “The Way” (not my way I did a training scheme) -- it was just what most people did. Things have changed now. 

There isn’t a guaranteed path to success and there isn’t a guaranteed path to failure. 

We can’t view our children’s career choices through the lens of our own. Things are different.

Let your kids do their own research

Ask your teenager where they want to study. What are some of Uni's, Colleges or training providers they’re keen to visit? Give them a chance to come up with a list and then go along to the Open Days together. That way, you’re still playing an active part in helping them decide but you’re letting them take initiative and lead the way.

Ask thought-provoking questions

Gently ask your teenager a lot of questions about what they’re looking for in a career and what they hope to get out of a qualification. The right questions will prompt them to reflect on their dreams and develop a better understanding of what they want.

Is this your dream career or theirs?

Does your child really want to study Law -- or is this your wish for them? We have met many students who have dropped out of university because their heart wasn’t in it. These students really wanted to please their parents, so they feel like ‘double failures’ when they drop out of uni. They feel like they have failed themselves and failed you. 

Isn’t it better to let them forge their own path and make their own mistakes? Young people tend to be more invested in completing something when it was their choice to begin with. The challenge for us as parents is to trust them and really listen to them when they tell us what they want.

Remember your advice will always be outdated

Chances are, you probably left high school quite a few years ago! So no matter how clearly you remember that time, it was actually a long time ago -- so your advice about it will always be outdated. 

The careers landscape has changed a lot in the past 2-3 decades. There’s a chance your teenagers might know more about the options available to them than you do. Talk to their teachers, career advisers, and attend Open Days with them to bring yourself up to speed. 

Don’t panic!

Please try not to panic. Your child is at the very start of their career and a lot will happen over the coming years. Did 17-year-old me know what I wanted to do? Of course not! The key is to start somewhere. 

If your teenager shows a passion for tourism, embrace it! It’s fantastic they are showing passion for anything -- and trust me, as a $14 billion industry, tourism is a really good thing to be passionate about. 

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