Career Workshops for Teens

Bringing in professionals to talk with young adults

November 1, 2018

If you tell teens you are hosting a career workshop where they can meet a professional and learn about a specific job, you may see some eye-rolling. The workshop is not an automatic sell, but it can be turned into a huge success as a series with a little effort. It thrives when teens are given partial ownership by helping to choose the professions featured. Library staffers can use this feedback to sculpt the series and market it.

Why meet with professionals?

Often the best information about a specific career comes from people working in that field. Career counselors recommend that teens inter­view professionals informally in areas that interest them. Such interviews can:

  • Provide an insider’s view of the profession or a specific company or organization.
  • Reveal information on what education, certifications, or job training are required to enter the field as well as what skills may be useful for success.
  • Broaden their view of the career by presenting jobs they may not have considered previously.
  • Allow for an understanding of what employers are looking for, which will help when applying for and interviewing for jobs.
  • Help form relationships with people already working in the field, which could lead to mentoring opportunities.
This is an excerpt from Career Programming for Today’s Teens: Exploring Nontraditional and Vocational Alternatives by Amy Wyckoff and Marie Harris (ALA Editions, 2019).
This is an excerpt from Career Programming for Today’s Teens: Exploring Nontraditional and Vocational Alternatives by Amy Wyckoff and Marie Harris (ALA Editions, 2019).

Certainly, the benefits of meeting with a professional are numerous. But how can teens set up an informational interview, especially with a career professional in a field that may not be very prominent in their community? Teens living in smaller towns have fewer opportunities to interact with professionals representing a broad range of careers. Libraries can help bridge this gap and connect teens with professionals of all types.

After we hosted an “I Can Be a Photographer” program at Charlotte Mecklen­burg (N.C.) Library, an interested teen stayed to chat with the presenter. He showed him his portfolio and asked if he needed an assistant. The presenter said he was not hiring at that moment, but he invited the teen to observe a shoot. The photographer also invited the teen’s parents so they all could learn about what it takes to be a photographer.

This teen took time to begin learning the skills necessary to be a photogra­pher. He was already practicing networking and seemed comfortable showing off his work. We were impressed by his initiative, but the library played a part in making this interaction possible. We connected this pas­sionate teen to a resource he was not sure how to discover previously.

Ideas with teen appeal

Teens regularly interact with teachers, counselors, doctors, coaches, and other local professionals. They have an idea of what those careers might be like, and they probably know a bit about the fields in which their parents work. But what about the careers for which they have limited or no information? Do your teens have interests that could translate into careers?

Speak with teens at your library to create a list of careers for your workshop. A teen library council or teen advisory group can help plan too. Teens are more likely to be invested in programs if they have some ownership. It may work best to ask what interests them rather than what careers they want to pursue. They might be unaware that their passions can turn into viable career paths.

Vet your speakers

Select your presenters carefully. Not all career professionals are dynamic public speakers. If you consider that the audience will be a group of possibly cynical young adults who have been sitting in hard plastic classroom chairs all day, you’ll understand that you must find speakers who will be knowledge­able, engaging, and adaptable.

Last year we hosted an “I Can Be a Pharmacy Technician” event. We were not sure how successful this would be, but colleagues raved about the speaker’s charisma and ability to connect with youth. They were right: The teens loved the presentation and were engaged throughout the program. They had never before considered pharmacy as a possible career, and many had not even known what a pharmacist did. The presenter’s skill in speaking to teens and his enthusiasm were essential to this program’s success.

Ask speakers to bring hands-on examples of their work to share with teens. When a tattoo art­ist visited, he brought a tattoo machine (without needles) and let the teens pass it around to look at and feel its heft. When skateboard shop owners visited, they brought multiple skateboard models and parts for the teens to handle. A painter brought some of her canvases as well as her favorite set of brushes to pass around. Opportunities for teens to handle tools of specific trades can make the programs feel more interactive and less like a lecture. They set the stage for teens to feel comfortable and engaged, especially during question-and-answer portions of the program.

We have never paid a professional for presenting at one of our career work­shops. They are often flattered to be invited to speak about their careers and feel that they are giving back to both the community and their professions by participating. Some professionals receive permission from their employers to present a workshop during the workday because the company considers it outreach.

Of course, entrepreneurs and other independent professionals may not receive payment for their time. For this reason, we always try to make them feel appreciated by ensuring that the workshop is well attended and by having snacks and beverages on hand. If we take pictures at the program, we send the presenter a link to the photos. This helps the library develop advocates in the community—and we can never have too many library advocates.

Marketing your program

Your workshop’s success may depend on your marketing efforts. Teachers and guidance counselors are often excited to hear that the library is offering a program to help teens think about their futures. They may put up fliers and promote the programs during school announcements or in newsletters sent to families. This is an excellent way to reach parents and students who may not know what your library offers.

Connecting with staffers at local schools can help you brainstorm workshops that might interest students, especially if your schools have career programs. If your school system features a career-based magnet school or career pathway program, your library could host a few workshops in related careers.

Are there nonprofits in your community that serve young adults? These organizations often look for ways to introduce teens to career options. In Charlotte, staffers at the Goodwill Career Leadership Academy for Youth were always happy to hear about programs we offered and would sometimes make field trips to the library with their teen participants. If you have any connections with staffers in these programs or with school counselors, reach out to see if they can take after-school field trips to the library, then plan your workshops around those times.

Consider your audience and be prepared to market innovatively. Since many teens do not follow our library directly on social media, we asked our teen volunteers to like and share our posts on Facebook and Instagram. We made sure to always make our fliers appealing to teens. You may have a teen intern or member of the teen library council with an interest in graphic design who can help create promotional materials to reach that demographic.

Connect with the right resources

Follow up with teens who attend your programs or show interest in a topic. There are several ways to get additional information:

  • Plan to have some related resources available at the workshop itself. The program may draw attendees who are new to your library, so have event calendars and fliers for upcoming workshops available. Our library system hosts a successful series of annual programs on prepa­ring for college and university entrance exams. We told teens and their parents about the career workshops at every session we held.
  • A display featuring books about a specific career can be set up in the room where the program is held. You can also prepare bookmarks with a list of suggested reading to pass out at the end of the program, which reminds teens that you are happy to help them locate additional information.
  • Some libraries’ policies allow for the collection of names, phone numbers, and email addresses at its programs. If you can do so, ask participants to sign in at the beginning of the workshops and indicate if they would like to receive further information. This allows you to send emails with expanded information based on questions teens ask at the end of the programs.

The library has access to so many useful resources to help teens learn about career paths. Some libraries subscribe to or other online learning interfaces where teens can watch videos and practice new skills. There are also how-to guides, YouTube videos, and other free resources like Khan Academy that library staff can recommend to its teens. We can also help them find informa­tion about internships, camps, and other educational programs—anything that can set them on the path toward a fulfilling career.


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