'Thinking about my future is really scary' – school leavers are not getting the careers support they need

'Thinking about my future is really scary' – school leavers are not getting the careers support they need

Australia’s class of 2022 is on the home stretch. Almost two million year 12 students will be sitting their final exams next month. In amongst this, they are making big decisions about their lives beyond school.

But research shows they are not getting the support they need as they finish school and move into the work or study that is right for them. Girls, in particular, are not getting the support they need.

This suggests careers support in high school is not working.

Careers education is not compulsory in Australian schools. There are guidelines such as the blueprint for career development. And the national curriculum up to year 10 calls on schools to “develop school-based approaches to career education […] to suit the needs of their students and the community”.

States and territories offer their own frameworks for years 11 and 12, such as Victoria’s careers curriculum framework.

These can be interpreted in a wide variety of ways. In reality, some schools may have dedicated careers teachers. Students sometimes seek private careers counselling. Others may have nothing.

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Our Monash University study published last month surveyed more than 1,300 female school students in years 10 to 12. We wanted to know about how they were choosing their careers.

While we found more than 83% wanted to go to university, there was a significant degree of uncertainty about what next:

The also continued to nominate careers within narrow fields. Half of young women’s chosen careers were concentrated in areas such as medicine (16.7%), law and paralegal studies (12.1%), nursing (11.5%), the creative arts (9.9%) and teaching (8.2%).

These ambitions are not bad, of course. But it means these young people might be overlooking new and growing careers around digital technology or fulfilling and potentially lucrative vocational options, such as trades.

Another 2022 study released this week by The Smith Family surveyed over 1,500 young people and interviewed 38 students aged 17–19 experiencing disadvantage.

While most young people surveyed (86%) recalled receiving careers support while at school, only just over half found this support helpful. One in ten said it was not useful at all.

In some cases, there was no career advice. As interviewee Rabia said:

Interviewee Mercedes said students needed advice that was individual and supportive:

When choosing careers, interviewees said they valued hands-on work exposure, vocational study and being able to try different career options while at school. As Sahil said:

Careers advice needs to do much more than tell young people about what subjects to do in year 12 to qualify for certain degrees, or hand out pamphlets at university open days.

Apart from understanding the modern job market and current range of opportunities, careers advice needs to support young people as they move to the next stage of life.

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Careers support is, of course, closely related to mental health and wellbeing. More than a third of those in The Smith Family Study had a health or mental health condition which was sometimes a barrier to employment, as Tarni said:

Young people need to know they are valued and have potential. An average of 110,000 fewer year 12s completed high school in the wake of COVID disruptions last year.

We need to find ways to keep them in school and provide them with better career support for their own and Australia’s future prosperity.

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