As we pass the half way mark in term 3, many students in Year 12 will be thinking more and more about their future.
Universities and TAFEs are having open days and no doubt, teachers, friends and family will be asking, “what are you going to do next year?”
As educators, parents and carers, we know these are difficult questions. But if anything, they are becoming more difficult for young people in an unpredictable and competitive job market
Our research shows young people are uncertain and worried about next steps after school. So we have also developed a questionnaire to help parents and teachers talk to school leavers and understand their thoughts and feelings about careers and life after school.
We recently analysed survey data collected in 2018 from nearly 2,800 Victorian school students in Years 10 to 12. This asked about their career aspirations, decision-making processes and intentions following school.
More than one third (33.8%) “agreed” or “strongly agreed” they “did not know what careers best suited them”. Another 40.5% often felt they “had no career direction”.
Just under half (41.5%) worried their studies would not lead to a “real” career, with 34.3% worried they would not be employable when they had completed their studies. Meanwhile 29% “agreed” or “strongly agreed” they often felt down or worried about selecting a career. This increased to 59.3% of respondents when “not sure” responses were included.
To further understand these findings, we asked four young people who had recently finished school to explain their decision making around this time.
Riana*, who studied at university before working with a non-government organisation, said thinking about the next step beyond Year 12 “felt overwhelming”. She spoke of indecision about her career choice.
Meanwhile, Candice said she was aware of needing to make a pragmatic decision but also stay true to her interests.
[…] there were so many things to consider. I would like to pick a major I like but at the same time I need to consider whether it is easy to find a job after I graduate or will it lead to a well-paid job.
Andrew said he made a clear goal of getting into two, specific different degrees (and a certain ATAR) to combat his feelings of overwhelm.
I knew I needed to have a goal before beginning Year 12. Otherwise it would be too difficult to maintain momentum and motivation.
Andrew also told us he sought advice from parents, teachers, university open days and student recruitment officers at universities. Riana also spoke of the importance of getting advice, of exploring options and being “curious different career pathways”.
Reaching for the familiar
But even when goals are in place, students grapple with uncertainty. This leads many students to reach for what is familiar.
After completing Year 12, Yasmin, lacked “a clear vision for my future career” and chose teaching “simply because it was a familiar job to me”.
Yasmin’s experience is echoed in OECD research, which shows teenagers tend to confine their choices to ten occupational fields (law, engineering, psychology, medicine, teaching, veterinary science, physiotherapy, nursing, business management, architecture). This is despite the emergence of new fields in the digital economy, as well as growth in areas such as health services.
Yasmin now said she would have benefited from “having a deeper understanding of what choosing a major and a career path truly means to me”.
How to have a supportive conversation
Having supportive, thorough career conversations is important for young people. This helps them express their true feelings and make sense of all the information and choices.
When young people have these conversations with parents, teachers and career advisers, they have lower levels of career uncertainty and anxiety.
So we have developed the short questionnaire below to stimulate careers conversations and help teenagers become more aware of their feelings around next steps.
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This can be the starting point of a conversation covering young people’s awareness of their own interests and strengths, career goals and preferences, knowledge of the requirements of different pathways, as well as their ideas about transitioning from education to work.
These conversations can be challenging. They might exacerbate personal issues, such as existing mental health conditions, that need to be considered.
If you work together with your child or student to create goals and plans, this will allow them to feel as if the conversations are both purposeful and productive.
The aim is for conversations to be safe and positive for young people, where their responses are respected, and they feel heard in the discussions.
*Names have been changed.
Author Bios: Lucas Walsh is Professor and Director of the Centre for Youth Policy and Education Practice and Joanne Gleeson is a Research Fellow in Education both at Monash University