"Career guidance has never been more important to young people"

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  • 01/03/2022
  • Tiempo de lectura 8 mins

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Anthony Mann. Senior Policy Analyst in the Directorate for Education and Skills at the OECD
Dr. Anthony Mann is Senior Policy Analyst in the Directorate for Education and Skills at the OECD He was a former UK government policy officer and has been an expert in youth employment, vocational training and academic and career guidance for over 20 years.
 
He is the co-author of numerous studies related to career guidance, most recently How Young People Explore, Experience and Think About Their Futures: A New Look at Effective Career Guidance. This report reviews 12 longitudinal investigations from 10 countries and assesses whether the career guidance activities adolescents engage in, and their attitudes about their future careers, influence their career outcomes when they are older.
 
Mann directs the OECD
Career Readiness project, through which the organization analyses different international studies available so that career guidance and education professionals, as well as policy makers, have evidence of what really works in career guidance and so they can better help young people in their academic development and work transitions.
 
Why is it important to have evidence on the effectiveness of career guidance actions and programs?
 
There is good reason to believe that career guidance has never been more important to young people.  Students are staying on in education longer than ever and the decisions they need to make about their engagement in education and training are becoming more difficult as the labour market becomes more turbulent with the effects of digitalisation, the pandemic and climate change. In many countries moreover, post-secondary systems are increasingly marketised. 
 
Unfortunately, the understanding of effective practice in guidance has long been constrained by lack of good evidence.  To be confident about the impacts of interventions, we need a lot of information about students and then follow them into adulthood.  What is so special about this new study is that it uses data from longitudinal surveys.  These are studies that follow large numbers of children through adolescence into adulthood.  For our purposes, longitudinal surveys include lots of information about the characteristics that most commonly influence how well people do in work: their gender, social backgrounds, educational qualifications, geographic location.  We can then take account of these factors in determining whether links can be found between career-related aspects of their young lives and better employment outcomes. 
 
Around the world, many longitudinal studies exist, but surprisingly few have ever been analysed to see what links can be confirmed.  It is the scale of the OECD Career Readiness project that makes it special.  Of course, longitudinal datasets are not perfect.  They inevitably provide information on experiences that took place many years ago and we must rely on the questions that we asked when the surveys were first drawn up.  However, they are the best source of evidence currently available to confirm long-term impacts. 
 
Importantly, longitudinal evidence helps governments, schools, and families to understand the true benefits of investing in guidance. It also gives confidence to policy makers and practitioners about the types of guidance that can be most relied on to enhance transitions and how they relate to overarching theories of change. 
 
What are the top 5 conclusions from the OECD study How Young People Explore, Experience and Think About Their Future: A New Look at Effective Career Guidance?
 
The first conclusion is that career guidance really can be expected to do the job that it is designed to do: helping young people do better in early employment than would be the case if they didn't have access to it.  Across the longitudinal studies we typically looked for statistically significant relationships between aspects of teenage lives at 15 and better employment rates, higher earnings and greater career satisfaction at 25.  Within the studies and the wider research literature, we find compelling patterns leading us to confirm 11 indicators of better teenage career readiness.  This new work introduces considerable new data from a wide range of countries into the public domain.  It will give governments and schools new confidence that investment in career guidance can be expected to deliver positive returns to students, employers and to society.
 
Secondly, while it is widely agreed that students need to explore different careers whilst still in education, the study underlined how essential it is that employers and people in work are engaged in that process.  Among the confirmed indicators are many activities that can only be delivered with employers (job fairs, career talks, job shadowing, workplace visits, workplace experience) and others that are more effectively delivered with employer engagement (interview practice, occupationally-focused short programmes). 
 
"Students need to explore different careers whilst still in education, the study underlined how essential it is that employers and people in work are engaged in that process".

A third insight was that as well as working part-time alongside their studies, teenagers who volunteer can also expect to do better later on.  In addition to our own conclusions, a number of good quality studies have appeared recently showing this strong link between volunteering and better employment outcomes.  We do not yet have sufficient data to confirm school-managed work placements as an indicator, but we would expect that if delivered well, such first-hand experience would also be beneficial.  When young people encounter people in work either at their school or in a workplace, they are presented with rich learning opportunities. 
 
The fourth key insight relates to an area not always at the heart of career guidance programmes.  We find in our own work and in other studies that how young people think about their futures in work relates to better outcomes.  We find, for example, that students who cannot name the kind of work they expect as an adult (and PISA tells us that 25% of students across the OECD have such career uncertainty) typically do worse later on in employment than would be expected given their backgrounds, qualifications and personal characteristics.  The same applies to students who plan on entering professional and managerial occupations that typically require tertiary qualifications, but who do not intend on entering university after completing secondary schools, and to students who struggle to see the relationship between their education and futures in work.  Greater career ambition is also beneficial. 
 
These insights from the data in numerous countries highlight the importance of students being able to confidently visualise and plan their futures.  Where indicators are met, they give confidence that students are thinking critically about their futures, developing understanding of the links between what they study, where they study and how hard they apply themselves in education to imagined futures.  Consequently, we argue that career guidance should begin well before the age of 15.  Ideally, at primary school, children should be helped to develop an understanding of jobs and careers, to challenge preconceptions about the sort of people who can succeed in different professions and to deepen understanding of the relationship between their education and imagined futures.
 
Finally, by using different datasets we find evidence to show that teenagers who exhibit more informed thinking about their futures are more likely to take part in a wide range of guidance activities through which they explore and experience potential futures in work, including speaking with a career advisor. Effective systems encourage and enable cultures of curiosity, helping students to continually reflect on their prospective futures.  Effective guidance begins early, happens often, and is well integrated into everyday schooling. Work-related learning can be a very effective means of bringing learning to life and often has the additional benefit of increasing the motivation of students to engage with their studies.  It is too late to offer guidance at the transition points out of secondary education.  Good guidance allows students to make decisions that are right for them through their education, influencing not only what they choose to study, but how hard they engage in their different studies.
 
"Longitudinal evidence helps governments, schools, and families to understand the true benefits of investing in guidance".

What indicators do you consider key to assess whether guidance has had a positive effect on a person's long-term academic and professional improvement?
 
The evidence suggests that students gain from participation in activities that help them explore and experience the labour market.  Within these, two types of activities come out as being especially important.  Firstly, students need to be given multiple opportunities to engage with employers across a range of different activities.  Secondly, it is important that schools work with young people to help them prepare for and reflect on their experiences. 
 
Ultimately, we need to help students visualise and plan their futures based on a broad, informed understanding of the labour market as they build their own understanding of their own preferences and capabilities.  When students take part in guidance activities and experience workplaces first-hand, we can see them in the data becoming more informed about their potential futures and what they need to do to achieve them. 
 
Based on the results of the study, what characteristics should career guidance programs have so that they can contribute to improving the professional future of students?
 
The Gatsby benchmarks developed in the UK provide a good initial model for the design of effective guidance programmes within secondary schools.  But, it is important to go further.  Effective programmes will begin at primary school and include multiple opportunities for engaging with the working world.  Within that, the research literature highlights the importance of students gaining a realistic understanding of the challenges of the labour market as well as its opportunities.  More information is better and within our work on longitudinal datasets we found positive links between teenage career preparation and greater job or career satisfaction as well as evidence of higher earnings and lower unemployment rates. 
 
Globally however, this is the most ambitious generation of young people ever and many will struggle with disappointment as they enter a working world that has become characterised in many countries by greater precarity and instability.  Studies here on critical consciousness are particularly interesting. The work of Matt Diemer in the United States for example has found that young people of colour who are more aware of the social characteristics of racism whilst teenagers prove to be more psychologically resilient later on. 
 
From another perspective, our study found that students who take part in occupationally-focused short programmes can commonly expect better outcomes.  These are programmes popular in Australia, Canada and the United States that take place typically over one or two days a week alongside general education whilst students are in upper secondary education.  Through these programmes, students are introduced to a vocational sector such as engineering and healthcare and given plentiful opportunities for work-related and work-based learning.  Students are supported through transitions, building social networks, cultural understanding and demonstrable human capital (often through securing vocational licenses).
 
The conclusions of the study say that students should reflect, explore and experience the world of work in order to have better results in their future careers. What can companies contribute to help make this happen?
 
I would focus on employers rather than companies here.  While schools have many functions, one important one in preparing students so that they are able to join the economic community, exchanging their time, skills and abilities for wages.  Employer engagement is a crucial element of effective career guidance.  By the time students leave education they should have been given plentiful opportunity to encounter people from the world of work.  One of the simplest and most powerful roles that people in work can play is coming into schools to talk about their jobs and careers.  In such encounters, young people are presented with a rich opportunity to broaden their understanding of the labour market.  One important UK study shows clearly that the more career talks that a teenager participates in the greater the earnings they can expect ten years later.      
 
"Schools should work with employers and people in work to make sure that they offer as authentic as possible insight into the nature of their work and routes into it".

The OECD's PISA study tells us that typically half and sometimes as many as three-quarters of 15-year-old expect to work in one of just ten popular jobs in their countries.  Employers and people in work can also contribute to job fairs, interview and CV workshops, workplace visits and support job shadowing and work placements.  What makes employer engagement so important is that it provides young people with the opportunity to learn things that are new and useful to them.  It is impossible for schools to fully understand the daily realities of people working across the labour market.  Consequently, employers provide knowledge and expertise that is additional to what schools can offer themselves.  These insights are hugely valuable.  Consequently, schools should work with employers and people in work to make sure that they offer as authentic as possible insight into the nature of their work and routes into it.  Information is only useful if it is believed. 
 
We must make it easy for employers to engage with schools.  In many countries, intermediary organisations – especially where they are overseen by organisations that represent schools, employers and people in work help to make engagement happen.  The biggest challenge is identifying people in a community willing to consider helping a local school.  Working through existing organisation structures such as professional bodies and trade unions aids the process.  Ultimately however, it is important that schools stay in the driving seat.  They are closest to the students and best understand their needs.  They are uniquely placed to understand make sure that the right students engage in the right activities at the right time.  Effective employer engagement should not suggest any failing of the education system but will act to enrich and enhance it by providing additional resource.
 
And what actions correspond to families to help adolescents to reflect, explore and experience the world of work?

One of the most interesting findings from the OECD study relates to career conversations.  We find that students who say that they talk to teacher, friends, and family members about jobs they are interested in do better later on in adult work.  Two things could be happening here.  On the one hand students could be gaining access to new information that proves useful to their progression.  This may happen, but it may be more likely that a second factor applies.  Students who engage in such conversations show that they are actively exploring potential futures in employment.  Here families are very important in encouraging a culture of curiosity. Families will vary considerably in the extent to which they have access to specialist knowledge directly or through their social contacts.  Where they can help in this way, it will be of real benefit to help students exploring potential futures for themselves.
 
However, not all families will be able to help in such ways.  Therefore schools are so important.  They are the democratic, public institution that allows all students to explore and experience possible futures in employment in a supported environment.  Schools can draw on parental support by bringing parents into school to talk about their jobs and careers and encouraging wider support for students through activities like job shadowing or interview practice.  Here it is important to value the range of occupations that parents undertake.  Relying on parents alone however runs risk as schools can often draw students from relatively distinct social groups and effective guidance will attempt to broaden aspirations and interest.
 
Which countries do you consider are referents in the field of career guidance and that value the evaluation of their career guidance programs to improve them?
 
Because of the limitations of the data – by no means did every longitudinal survey asked all the questions that we were interested in – it is impossible to provide a full comparison of countries.  However, one country did stand out: Canada.  The Canadian longitudinal survey that we looked at asked 15-year-olds a very wide range of questions about their participation in career guidance, their experiences in workplaces and what they were thinking about their potential futures in work – and routinely these aspects of teenage lives could be linked to better employment outcomes ten or fifteen years later.  As with all longitudinal datasets, inevitably the data from Canada is old.  The students we looked at were 15 in the year 2000.
 
Canada is not alone in promoting a highly professional workforce in career guidance.  Well-trained guidance counsellors have a vital role to play in the lives of young people through their direct interactions with students and by creating programmes that allow them to imagine and prepare for future lives.  Here, a culture of experimentation and constant evaluation is as valuable as it is on other school disciplines.  In this way, counsellors are well placed to build upon a growing body of international research that highlights the critical importance of their profession.
 
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