What do you want to be (able to do) when you grow up?
My 4 year-old son has recently announced that he wants to be a racing car driver when he grows up. Despite the inherent danger of the profession and the constant threat of media intrusion, I'm fairly relaxed about this declaration. After all, last month his aspirations were leaning towards being a windmill engineer and thus joining the ranks of the privileged few allowed inside the actual wind turbines at Whitelees Windfarm, a regular haunt of ours. Prior to that he's variously wanted to be; in the navy (a sure fire route to a ride in a submarine); an astronaut; a bionicle and - the starry-eyed dream of small boys everywhere - a train driver.
Conversations with both my 4 year old and his elder brother on the topic of future career moves tend to veer between the hilarious and the bizarre. When I can manage to keep a straight face I try to get the occasional pitch in (beloved of parents everywhere) about the importance of trying hard at school if they want to be able to follow their dreams.
"Erm… I think windmill engineers have to be pretty good at maths, but you like maths, don’t you, so that should be ok."
When the time comes for my boys to start thinking seriously about their options I hope they have a positive attitude to education as a springboard for the rest of their lives. To be totally frank I don’t care whether they have high flying careers so long as they have jobs that they value. And to have a chance of that, they need to keep their options open.
In terms of careers advice in schools the coalition government are committed to establishing an all-age careers service in England. Similar services are already successfully established in Scotland and Wales. There are also a lot of great web resources out there, which offer practical advice on careers, without losing the sense of excitement and possibility.
I have lot of respect for careers advisors and their dual roles of encouraging ambition and giving down-to-earth advice. My partner used to work in this field and has first hand experience of the difference he and his colleagues made (across the academic scale) with the support, information and advice they could offer people facing difficult choices. (Having said that, his dream jobs for the boys include both international football player and 'Rock God'). However, I strongly feel we as parents have the biggest role to play in helping our children look to the future.
My eldest son has stuck for several months to the idea that he wants to be a scientist. Although I know this is currently driven by a desire to build huge destructive robots, I think it’s a pretty good aspiration and I feel a trip to the National Museum of Scotland in Edinburgh and it's wonderful, child-friendly robot exhibit coming up. I hope to keep on using any opportunities I can, to encourage my sons to aim as high and as wide as they want to, but also taking the chance to remind them that some things are worth working hard for.
Flora Napier works for BBC Learning Scotland.