Getting our next generation career-ready #newreality

Joining me today with comment on some of the points throughout this article is Diane Fisher, Strategic Lead for Careers at Kingsthorpe College in Northampton, one of our partner schools supported by the Automotive 30% Club Inspiration for Innovation Network. Diane is a registered professional with the Career Development Institute.

Following on from my article ‘Let’s help close our children’s aspiration gap’ which identified that approximately 6 months into the worst pandemic in 100 years, abandonment of aspirations for the year ahead stands at 39% according to this latest Prince’s trust research in the 16-25 age bracket, let’s take a look at what the OECD (Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development) research [1] says about how schools can better prepare young people for working life in the era of COVID-19.

The focus of the working paper [1] is on how secondary schools can optimise young people’s preparation for adult employment at a time of extreme labour market turbulence. There is substantial variation in career readiness within countries and more effective education systems will address inequalities in teenage access to information and support in preparing for working life. Do not assume, however, that developed countries have these great systems in all areas because they do not necessarily.

Disproportionate suffering falls to young people in any recession, and unfortunately, this will be no different as we see COVID-19 slow our economy. Interestingly though reliable indicators exist showing young peoples career readiness: greater than anticipated adult employment outcomes are statistically connected to

  • What teenagers think about their futures in work
  • The extent to which they explore potential futures
  • Whether they gain workplace experience whilst in school

Collectively these indicators reveal greater student preparedness to act independently in approaching school to work transitions.

Adult work outcomes are directly associated with what secondary school students think about their future working lives. Uncertainty about their job expectations generally leads to lower earning potential as an adult and conversely those with high expectations and career ambitions also expect to do better in the workplace. PISA shows that across the OECD:

  • uncertainty has increased by 81% since 2000
  • one-third of disadvantaged students have career and education plans that are misaligned and 28% possess the ability but do not aspire to tertiary education 
  • young people exhibit increasing levels of career concentration: half of the students expressing an aspiration now expect to work in one of ten jobs, a proportion rising to more than 70% in many countries.

This research shows that young people commonly have a distorted view of the job market and that their vision of such is heavily shaped by social background, gender and migrant status.

I asked Diane “What are the main misconceptions amongst your students in regard to the job market? And do you find that there is a difference in those misconceptions between genders at all?”

Diane observes, “There’s a common theme that is coming out when we talk to our 6th formers – they have actually got good aspirations but they are not necessarily realistic. So the challenge is to try and get them to understand, without discouraging their enthusiasm or drive, that if they achieve a grade 3 or 4 then they are not going to be able to maximise those ambitions. What we then do is advise them what they can achieve that sits within the realm of attainment, but might be linked to their highest goal. So, if they want to be a doctor for instance, but their grades don’t support that then we look at other avenues within the medical profession or related sectors for instance that they can attain.

We do encourage the students to follow their passion, and again this is great but does need to be tempered by labour market information, which is something we try to encourage them to look at. This of course this can be quite challenging because they don’t see the bigger picture, which I think we can agree is difficult with a limited experience of the world.

The other thing is that some students think that they can just walk into jobs without the appropriate qualifications, skills and experience. They believe that if they just get their GCSEs they will be ok. That does seem to be more of a male trait, the girls appear to be more realistic and look beyond their academic abilities (toward other activities such as part-time jobs, volunteering etc) at things will help them to be more rounded. It seems that actually some of the boys are essentially confident about the job market without realising the practicalities of what you need to do to be employable. Culture also affects this, and some communities where traditionally males are dominant in the household can also perpetuate this thought process. So, it’s’ about helping those students understand the importance of looking at all of the information funnels that can help them achieve their goals.”

Interestingly then, Diane’s comments actually support the research covered in this article, showing that students do have a distorted view of the labour market, as per their socioeconomics and demographics.

In 2018 the Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA) showed that 25% of OECD 15-year-olds do not speak with anyone about their career ambitions and this is linked to further misalignment to employment. Career guidance and occupational exploration activities develop their critical thinking about the labour market and the roles that are available within it. Broadening their aspirations by creating multiple direct encounters with people in work provides an authentic and trustworthy source which can help refine their career interests and their expectations.

Via activities that give students first-hand experience of the labour market, stats show that students gain greater confidence in being able to adapt to new circumstances, something that is going to be very valuable in the current pandemic circumstances. These are some of the indicators linked to statistically significant associations between teenage career-related experiences and attitudes, and later employment outcomes – 

  • career ambition: interest in progressing to higher education and professional/managerial employment 
  • career alignment: matching of occupational and educational expectations 
  • occupational preparation: participation in short occupationally-specific courses within general programmes of education
  • school-mediated work exploration: including workplace visits, job shadowing

Access to this information is at the heart of supporting and broadening ambitions and allows students to be aware of what it takes to achieve their aspirations and help progress toward career goals.

Young people will find it hard to ignore the insights from the people whose paid employment brings them into direct contact with the world of occupational change and this information is vital to their future success. The key challenge is how to bring the benefits of the workplace and the people who work within it into schools in this era of social distancing and lockdown.

With that in mind, I put to Diane, “We know that homeschooling due to lockdown is making it more difficult to enable direct encounters with employers. What alternatives have been used in school in this respect during the lockdown, if anything? And what do your students actually enjoy most with online encounters that they perhaps don’t get enough of?”

Diane remarked, “It’s all been virtual. We’ve done a couple of live online sessions with the older students. With the younger students, it wasn’t so successful mainly due to the fact that the technology was not ours and the set up was incorrect so led to lack of control, then due to safeguarding concerns we had to stop. We ran a workshop with Y12/13 students which was great, our students just joined from home. They do prefer live interactions. You have to limit what you are doing with recorded sessions as they can be less engaging. They need more live interactions but it’s difficult to provide those virtually especially at home because there are so many policies and safeguarding issues that affect the delivery, so doing home research for sensitive subjects is not appropriate. We have decided that we are going to concentrate more on careers whilst homeschooling is in place.”

Finally to Diane, “What have you found to be the most positive thing that has come out of the COVID-19 situation in your school, relevant to careers, that can be used in future?”

“What has been good though is that I have been able to launch Unifrog (which is a database of post 16 and post 18 opportunities) whilst the students have been at home, as they are all on their individual computers. That has been a plus as now the whole schools are onboard, and now that information is available for them to access as required. Definitely, in this regard, admin wise it has been a bit of a bonus.”

The work of the Automotive 30% Club Inspiration for Innovation Network has pivoted from physical activities within educational establishments to virtual ‘visits’ and activities, and even though this still presents operational challenges for both schools and volunteer businesses we continue to be optimistic that we can bring age-relevant and personalised (not ‘off the shelf’)  presentation of information to those schools who request it, because this really is our #newreality.

As we await the results from these interventions, we can hope that some, if not the majority of students taking part, will take positive outcomes to help build their confidence that they can be career-ready individuals with high aspirations even in these challenging and dynamic times.

You can read more about the Automotive 30% Club Inspiration for Innovation Network actions on our ‘News and Activities’ page, and, if you are reading this and think you would like to get involved with our network please click here or drop me a line at Danielle@Automotive30Club.co.uk


Article by – Danielle Humphreys, Inspiration for Innovation Network Manager


[1]  https://www.oecd-ilibrary.org/docserver/e1503534-en.pdf?expires=1612953947&id=id&accname=guest&checksum=6AC1C0ED50A65528D1899F28A0819A7E

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