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Stages of career development

What’s important in our career development at the different stages of our lives? It may be surprising, but right from birth you develop skills and qualities that contribute to your career. Find out about the different stages of development that you and your family/whānau may experience.



Birth to 2 years


Important career stage

Love and nurture/play

  • Early skill development - these are the building blocks of all other skills needed throughout life. Feeding, sleeping, smiling, squealing, vocalising, sitting up and grasp reflex are all learned in the first 18 months.
  • Watching people and objects and responding to taste, smell, voices, faces, and touch will help babies learn these early skills.
  • A baby's brain development is very important in its first three years of life. Parents' and family's love, nurture and affection are vital for the brain to develop properly.


Early childhood

2 to 5 years


Important career stage

Early skill development/exploration

  • Major milestones of skill development are reached in the early childhood years. Crawling, standing, walking, running, talking, toilet training, climbing, eating, dressing, drinking, skipping, hopping and drawing to name a few!
  • Participation in early childhood education begins from three to five years. Socialising with other children, sharing and playing are the foundation stones for teamwork and social behaviour later on.
  • Children at this age are interested in jobs that people do. For example, the fireman and the rubbish collector are jobs that they can see, hear and smell.


School age

5 to 9 years


Important career stage

Literacy and numeracy development/forming work and study patterns

  • May have narrow ideas about work, or excitement and interest in jobs and the adult world. At this age they are able to dream big!
  • Role modeling is important - having an understanding of, and pride in what parents and whānau do for work
  • Opportunities for skill development outside of school. For example, sport, the arts.
  • Ideas about work are expressed in play and based on the examples of adults. For example, playing doctors and nurses, teachers, shopkeepers



9 to 12 years


Important career stage

Developing skills and interests

  • What they do in their free time is important to develop skills and talents.
  • May have jobs and responsibilities around the house and in their community, for example, chores and babysitting which develops their work skills.
  • Some may have hopes about possible careers expressed as "I want to be .........when I grow up". Some children may need their aspirations raised.
  • If children can be exposed to positive workplaces, their experiences can be fun.
  • Schools are required to begin career education and guidance from Year 7.
  • Are influenced by peers -some of the negative influences are starting to become apparent, such as attendance and achievement at school.



12 to 18 years


Important career stage

Social relationships/transition to higher education or training

  • Career maturity may vary - some are ready to make decisions, and have clear and realistic plans, others don't have much experience at decision making and are not planning ahead. Decisions can be based on panic or sense of limited options.
  • Many are employed in part-time work - first experience of paid employment.
  • Some teenagers may be looking towards independence from parents - leaving home. Rural teenagers may have a sense of "I've gotta get outta here". Tertiary study may be scary and unfamiliar - especially if first family member to go.
  • Impact of parenting becomes evident: ranging from "helicopter parenting" - always hovering, to uninvolved parenting where child is left to manage processes themselves.
  • Peer pressure can be a strong influence. Some risk-taking behaviour and experimentation.
  • Falling behind at school may result in leaving school without qualifications. Teenage pregnancy may interrupt career plans.
  • Secondary schools are required to provide career education and guidance for all secondary students. Able to leave school at 16 years.


Young adulthood

18 to 40 years


Important career stage

Establish career/relationships and parenting

  • May become qualified in an industry or graduate from tertiary study. Could have a student loan to repay.
  • Usually first full-time or career-focused job.
  • May experience a quarterlife crisis (a quarterlife crisis is when a young person, usually around 25 years old, experiences a period of anxiety and uncertainty that may accompany their transition to adulthood).
  • Eighteen to twenty-five year olds (particularly young men) may experiment and take physical risks.
  • Some job-hopping to figure out what they like in a job. Overseas experiences may open up new ideas for careers.
  • A time where they may physically work the hardest - to get where they want to go. May find it challenging to have work-life balance. With a longer work track record, may have a greater chance for promotion.
  • Relationships with parents/older adults may change. May be expected to take responsibility for family/whānau and bring in income for household.  May buy a house and take on a mortgage.
  • Intimate relationships become increasingly important. May make longer term commitments.
  • May start a family. Couples may be deciding how to manage on one income if having a baby. Women making decisions about when to have children and whether to continue working.




Middle adulthood

40 to 65 years


Important career stage

Continued upskilling/work-life balance/parenting

  • Stay-at-home parents may be thinking about re-entering the workforce after raising children. Those who have raised family may possibly have more time for themselves. Some older parents raising young children also.
  • A time of reflection and reassessment. Attitude of no compromise anymore - "It's time for me". Work-life balance may become very important.
  • May be in greater leadership or management positions, which could result in greater financial reward, and/or increased responsibility and stress.
  • Increasing divorce rate means home and income may be halved, resulting in greater financial stress and reliance on own career if split from a marriage or partner.
  • May be more confident to take risks. May consider travel - the late OE or "flashpacker" (wealthier and older backpacker who is young at heart).
  • May still be supporting young adult children financially through university, setting up house or weddings.
  • Grandparenthood - and sharing care of grandchildren. May be supporting the extended family. The "sandwich" generation.  May be caring for older parents also.
  • The older worker may experience ageism in applying for jobs. More risk of redundancy and risk of outdated skills. However, skilled older workers may be in demand due to a labour and skill shortage.
  • Retirement package may be an incentive to stay with an organisation. Some planning for retirement.
  • Could be involved in greater community responsibilities, serving on committees, charities and volunteer clubs.
  • Coping with changes such as ageing, menopause, death of parents, empty nest syndrome if children leaving family home. May experience a midlife crisis.
  • The importance of keeping fit and challenging oneself physically - may feel pressure to stay youthful. Health issues may start to occur.



65 onwards


Important career stage


  • Some may still be working in the paid workforce. For some careers they may be able to work part-time, work from home or do contract work.
  • Grandchildren and family focus is often very strong. Children may be working and grandparents may be involved in regular care of grandchildren.
  • Keeping mentally and physically active. Interest in clubs and groups important for social contact. May take up new interests or hobbies, or even tertiary study.
  • May consider downsizing the family home, or may move in with, or nearer to, relatives. May return to place of birth. For example, the Pacific Islands.
  • Receiving government pension and/or retirement savings. Financial worries if not saved enough for retirement.
  • Coping with death of spouse, friends and family members.
  • Increasing likelihood of health concerns, e.g. hospital visits/check-ups.
  • Sense of giving back to society - may become involved in voluntary work that has personal/family significance.