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Careers education - what do young people think?

11 Apr 2022

Shamim, Eva, Abbie-Lee and Lizzie are all in their early 20s. They are all members of our Youth Advisory Group, part of our organisation which brings together the perspectives of current and former students. In this article the group, reflect on our latest report, looking at 15,000 young people’s perceptions about their career readiness and skills.

From September 2021 until February this year, more than 15,000 students filled in the ‘Future Skills Questionnaire’. From identifying awareness about apprenticeship pathways and A Levels, reflections on what essential skills a young person has, to capturing knowledge about labour market information, this new tool is being rolled out by Careers Leaders across England.

Big changes during secondary school

For Abbie-Lee, one of the biggest surprises in the data was how much improvement you can see on the impact of careers education from starting secondary school to leaving. “I just couldn’t believe how much progress had been made. You can physically see what’s changing – more young people aware about all different types of opportunities and jobs.”

“You start out in Year 7, without all that much awareness of different jobs and gradually over your time experiencing a careers programme that increases. When I went through school it just wasn’t as sophisticated as that” she added.

For Lizzie “The confidence young people have in their essential skills as they went throughout school was what was most exciting. For this Covid-generation of students, it’s just brilliant that they’re becoming more confident in Years 9, 10 and 11, and particularly great that ‘staying positive’ and having that resilience is the skill they’re most confident in.

Careers Leaders can find out more about how to use the Future Skills Questionnaire.

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You start out in Year 7, without all that much awareness of different jobs and gradually over your time experiencing a careers programme that increases. When I went through school it just wasn’t as sophisticated as that.


You can’t be what you can’t see – the power of pathways

One of the main themes in the February 2022 data was increased knowledge about apprenticeships as young people go through secondary school.

“If you’d asked me when I was at school what an apprenticeship was, I wouldn’t have known, and I’d have said it’s something to do with bricklaying” Lizzie said. “On my year in industry at uni I was at Airbus, and I was just in awe of the degree apprentices I worked with. Getting paid to study and to work is so empowering.”

She added: “It’s fantastic to see that improvement over time, the more young people go through school, the higher their awareness about apprenticeships is.”

Shamin thinks that knowing about apprenticeships has become even more important for the current generation of students. “It’s brilliant to see knowledge improving. Partly it’s cultural – from my experience and for so many of my friends, uni was the expected route. It’s what your mates did, and it’s what your parents wanted you to do. So having conversations about apprenticeships starts to normalise it. But as uni gets more and more expensive too, and you get new professional apprenticeships in different businesses starting, it becomes an option you can’t ignore.”

Starting earlier

While the Youth Advisory Group were pleased to see improvements over time, the data made them reflect on the importance of sharing information with students as early as possible.

“It’s great things improve, but young people need to know about options earlier” according to Eva. “If you’re only knowing about an apprenticeship in Year 10 then it could be too late. What if you need a certain GCSE subject to go into it? Even just having some awareness at the start of secondary school could make a big difference, it might even be a big motivator for some people knowing that not everything leads to an academic option.”

Abbie-Lee agreed. “I’m from Liverpool, and we lacked social mobility. Everyone I know did blue-collar jobs and I planned to become a teacher because it was safe, stable and that’s the only job I knew. If I knew more about the jobs earlier on, I’d have chosen different options and thought about different courses. Without exams in Year 7, 8 and 9, there is so much more opportunity to focus on careers and get students interested in the different possibilities out there for them.”

Awareness about the labour market

The initial findings of the Future Skills Questionnaire found that a majority of students knew key facts about their local labour market and by KS5, 72% of students had thoughts about how jobs and careers might change in the future.

For Lizzie, that’s an important indicator for how careers education is changing. “At school I didn’t necessarily know what jobs existed in my local area, let alone what jobs might not yet exist.”

“I just didn’t think about the labour market at all. But actually, that’s so vital to everything – including where you might want to live.”

“I didn’t know anything about salaries, how jobs change based on what the local economy is like, or that it’s more expensive to live in different areas of the country. Young people having those skills now, and the ability to think about it and weigh it up, will mean so many more picking the path that’s right for them”, Eva said.

For Abbie-Lee, improved careers education has implications for increases in the cost of living. “I’m 24, and when I was in school all I wanted was to own a house, a car and have a job. I didn’t know about the cost of living and the huge differences between different jobs and industries, especially now things are getting more expensive.”

“Young people need to know about their labour market, otherwise they’re not prepared for the real world and how it will impact on them for the rest of their life.”

Find out more about our Future Skills Questionnaire findings. The Careers & Enterprise Company will be looking at national data from across the country, while Careers Leaders in their school or college also use it to evaluate and continually improve the careers education programmes they run.

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