Research from the ESRI found that nearly 50% of young people regretted their post-leaving cert college and work choices and 53% said that they would not follow the same path again. This is reflected in the high college dropout rate (Around 1 in 6 students drop out in their first year). Research from sources such as Waterford Institute of Technology and the National Forum for the Enhancement of Teaching and Learning has found that dissatisfaction with the courses is one of the primary reasons for this dropout.
This drop out is traumatic for individual students and families and it is costly for the taxpayer as well. To help young people find courses and careers that they will enjoy and be good at, we need to understand how young people make decisions and what barriers are making it difficult for them to make better decisions.
What are the challenges?
ESRI research has previously found that young people feel that too much emphasis is placed on points and getting into prestigious colleges and that they feel overwhelmed and rushed by the importance of the decisions that face them. Adequate access to Guidance Counsellors and career guidance resources in schools is essential to help young people deal with this challenge. According to the ESRI, the significant cuts in resources for Guidance Counselling in Schools meant that during the recession, many schools lacked sufficient resources and 200 schools have no one-to-one career guidance counselling. While the restoration of funding for the equivalent of 100 additional guidance counselling posts in September 2017 is good news, many schools will still have limited funding for Guidance Counselling for the foreseeable future.
However, funding may not be the only problem. Research from the UK indicates that many young people are not engaged in thinking about different career options as the task is too difficult. Given the vast array of CAO and PLC courses in Ireland, picking an adequate course seems quite daunting here as well. To get young people more engaged in the career guidance process, the research indicates that we need to help simplify the process for them. Young people from the research said that, in theory, they saw the benefit of making informed career choices but they struggled to answer the following three questions:
A) What are the possible careers open to me?
B) What will it be like to do a particular job?
C) What would I need to do to get there?
How can our society help young people make more informed career decisions?
The first step is to make the process as personalised as possible by helping students find options that are suitable for their backgrounds, grades, interests, motivations and abilities. The key with this process is to simplify the options for students as there are so many available careers that the average secondary school student can pursue. This can be done with one-to-one discussions and reliable interest and aptitude tests.
Second, students from the study in the UK wanted more real-life opportunities to see what it would be like to work in a particular role. In theory, it can be easy to think you will like a particular role until you know what you are going to do every day. Stakeholders such as Parents, Schools, Educators and the Government need to help young people get more real-life opportunities via work experience, internships etc.
Third, we need to do everything to deemphasise the value of thinking only about points. The core metric that many people use to judge the quality of a school seems to be the average number of points that their students get. Education is not only about helping people obtain academic skills and knowledge, it is supposed to give people the practical life skills that they will need to make big life decisions.
To achieve all of these changes, extensive collaboration between stakeholders such as the government, schools, parents and private professionals will be necessary. This will be a time consuming process but given the current dropout rate and the economic costs of career mismatches, it would be a worthwhile investment.
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