When you were a kid, you might have dreamed of being a doctor, a teacher or a veterinarian. You likely determined your career options by looking at the people around you and seeing what jobs they held. But it's a new world, and there is an array of careers many people know nothing about.
A couple of websites have emerged to change how young people choose their job paths and help them broaden their employment options.
"Sixty-three per cent of career choices are made through family and friends," said Spencer Thompson, CEO of Vancouver-based Sokanu.com, a career matchmaking site, citing a joint survey of 18- to 34-year-olds the company conducted with Harris Interactive. "That's not necessarily optimized for who we are as people."
The company's mission is to connect people with the careers they are meant to do. Mr. Thompson, who started Sokanu at age 19, back in 2010, found that many of his former classmates had no idea what they wanted to do with their lives. Even for those who did, the path seemed difficult.
Since then, he has raised a round of seed funding, and the site began a test phase last October, gaining 25,000 users. At this early stage, the site is intended to help young people learn more about themselves and their potential career options than it is about finding jobs, he said.
To help young people determine their potential career paths, Sokanu uses a 203-question survey. Mr. Thompson, a statistician, worked with an industrial organizational firm to develop the algorithm that powers the questionnaire.
"The main idea is that we have broken down a large data base of careers [more than 500] into 'genes,' or character traits," Sokanu communications co-ordinator Jocelyn McLean said.
The questionnaire helps the site understand what makes the respondent unique. Sokanu works like online dating sites, such as eHarmony or Match.com, where algorithms – step-by-step procedures used to solve problems – make a match dependent on each respondent's specific answers, Mr. Thompson said.
Respondents can review their career matches and check out career definitions and reviews on Sokanu's website to help decide which roles may suit them best.
Toronto-based not-for-profit site CareerMash wants to help high-school students, parents, guidance counsellors, and teachers understand the huge variety of technology careers available. It provides schools with access to role models who can talk to students about technology jobs in general, plus what they actually do for a living, and how they got there.
CareerMash wants to change the perception that technology jobs are just for geeks, and to provide a road map to make it easier to find a career in the field. The program also gives people a way to have their questions answered while providing real-time information on the latest trends, said Simona Ramkisson, program manager for community outreach.
Located at Toronto's main Centre for Social Innovation building, it is part of the non-profit Canadian Coalition for Tomorrow's Information and Communications Technology Skills, a business-backed group that wants to inspire young people to pursue technology-related careers. The organization has links to 70-plus role models within the tech community.
Ms. Ramkisson said she believes there is a lack of information about certain technology jobs and CareerMash offers people a chance to explore any career they can imagine. The "meet the pros" section of the CareerMash site, for instance, introduces readers to graphic designers, network administrators, a solar tech entrepreneur, software developers, IT business analysts, and an aerospace engineer. The pros explain what they do, what they studied, and their tips for success.
She said technology jobs are always evolving and being created in greater numbers.
"What we're trying to say is that technology is not just working in an office, or a basement somewhere – it is in the community, in the field, it is done in different ways, regardless of what you like doing," Ms. Ramkisson said.
Canada's professional technology work force grew to 800,000 from 650,000 over the past 10 years. It is expected to rise by a further 106,000 jobs from 2011 to 2016, according to the Information and Communications Technology Council. For young people seeking a career path with some immediate prospects and longer-term job security, it's a key figure.
While Toronto's overall youth unemployment rate, for example, stands at 16 per cent, the rate is under 3 per cent in technology and related fields, Ms. Ramkisson said.