Careers education at a crossroads

January 2013


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As schools eagerly await the outcome of last year’s CIAGE (Careers Information, Advice, Guidance and Education) review and what changes it might bring, Education Review takes a look at what tools and services are currently paving the way for students.

The Herald recently cast the spotlight on school leaver Michael Thomson. As Fraser High School’s 2012 dux, the 18-year-old no doubt has his choice of options open to him. Thomson, in keeping with the recent Herald DigiPoll results, plans to study for a university degree in social sciences. Of those surveyed in the poll, 67.3 per cent recommend getting a qualification after leaving school. Just under 18 per cent recommend working for a few years before studying or training, and under 14 per cent suggest travelling overseas first.

Tertiary study is a popular option these days, particularly due to the current lack of employment options for young people. Yet many, including Herald columnist Fran O’Sullivan, are scathing about the inability of tertiary graduates to find a job that covers their student debt.

It is certainly a tricky path finding the right career, one negotiated by thousands of young Kiwis each year. What is available to them? What works? What doesn’t? Whose advice do they trust most?

School career services

Beyond dining-table discussions with parents, for most students, the first meaningful career advice usually takes place at school. It is difficult to gauge the effectiveness of a school’s career education and advisory programme; schools are naturally loath to be self-critical and students are often at a ‘too soon to tell’ juncture for any feedback to be meaningful.

However, the Education Review Office (ERO)’s review of Careers Information, Advice, Guidance and Education (CIAGE) in Secondary Schools in July last year – which was part of a major formal review of CIAGE commissioned by the Ministry of Education – identified a number of interesting findings.

Of the 44 secondary schools examined, ERO found just four to have high-quality approaches to CIAGE. These schools were lauded for their ‘school-wide focus on student futures’, including helping Māori students, priority learners, and students with special needs.

Of the remaining 41 schools, 17 were described as having a more conventional approach to careers that centred on the work of a careers department.

Many fell into a standardised pattern of career education, including Year 9 students visiting the careers centre and completing a self-awareness unit in health, Year 10 students developing a learning plan to inform their options for Year 11, senior students visiting tertiary organisations, and Year 13 students having individual interviews with a trained careers advisor.

While staff at these schools were generally organised and competent and understood the need for students to develop career management competencies, this was not a top priority for the school.

Nineteen schools, the largest group in the review, were identified by ERO as operating below this level with regard to career education. Although their approach to CIAGE was linked to the career education guidelines, there remained much room for improvement.

The remaining four schools were said to have a low-quality approach to CIAGE, their focus for student career planning typically aimed at Year 13 students only with no expectations for curriculum departments to develop careers-based units or classroom materials.

Assuming the sample of schools examined is representative of schools across New Zealand, it is fair to conclude from ERO’s report that while there are a number of exemplary programmes out there, the vast majority of schools are following conventional, one-size-fits-all approaches to careers education, with a few not measuring up at all.

Career education benchmarks

Careers New Zealand identified this inconsistency as a weakness in schools’ and tertiary institutions’ career education; it perceived a lack of common understanding of what effective practice in career education requires. The organisation believes it has a responsibility to address this gap and help schools and tertiary institutions effectively educate students about their career options, to prevent them from walking blindly into a qualification, training course, or job without considering longer-term employment prospects.

In reinvigorating the careers system, Careers New Zealand launched a suite of career-education benchmarks for the secondary and tertiary sectors. The benchmarks are, in essence, self-review tools that schools and institutions can use to evaluate their own provision of CIAGE.

The benchmarks are a set of documents, informed by research and best practice, outlining key dimensions for effective career-education practice. Collectively, the benchmarks form a flexible tool that enables schools and institutions to use the best approach that suits their needs.

Careers New Zealand also perceives the benchmarks programme as a means to gaining a more nationally consistent practice and smoother transitions for all young people from school.

The secondary school benchmarks were launched in October 2011 and are now gaining momentum across the country. The tertiary version was released mid-last year and there are plans afoot to expand the benchmark initiative to Years 7 and 8.

While some may consider it premature to begin career education at the tender age of 11 or 12, Careers New Zealand believes it is important to start the process early. A handbook aimed at career education for this age group has been released, discussing why it is relevant, what activities and discussions are appropriate, and how these will link in to career education later in their school life. The benchmarks will feed into this approach, enabling the careers and education sectors to work together to support young people in developing career-management competencies they can build upon from their intermediate years into their early teens and adulthood.

Dale Bailey, Northern Area Manager for Careers New Zealand, feels strongly about the impact of quality career education.

“Good career education makes students more aware of their own potential and provides teachers and tutors with insights into how they can engage and motivate their students,” says Bailey. “People with career-management skills make sound career decisions and realise their potential. Grounded with these skills, they become passionate, qualified, and employable people.”

The Careers Expo

In an effort to link in with CIAGE and achieve consistency across New Zealand, Careers New Zealand is partnering with the famed Careers Expo this year.

The expo will also have a number of strategic partners including Youth Guarantee and Fletcher Construction, which will collectively aim to breathe life into the Government’s Vocational Pathways initiative by showcasing each of the five Pathways: construction and infrastructure, manufacturing and technology, the primary industries, the service industries, and social and community services. Each pathway has been developed by a consortium of industry training organisations (ITOs) and representatives of schools and tertiary providers, liaising with government agencies, in an effort to clarify career options.

But the Careers Expo is more than just flaunting government initiatives. The free expo is a well-known avenue for students to connect with various employers, industry groups, tertiary and training providers, and government departments. It has been a part of secondary schools career programmes for 21 years, with over 120 schools attending the expo each year throughout the country. This year, it will take place from June to August in Auckland, Hamilton, Wellington, and Christchurch.

External career advisory services

While there are certainly benefits in having all qualification, training, and career options physically laid out, career experts insist that the most important thing for young people is having an understanding of their own strengths, interests, and long-term goals.

Youthline, an organisation that provides advice, information, and counselling to New Zealand’s young people on a huge range of topics, takes this person-centred approach. Clinical services manager Glenda Schnell recently told the Herald that the organisation works with young people to help them make a decision about their career.

“It’s a case of looking at their passions and interests and weighing up the young person’s long-term goals, empowering them to think about what option is going to serve them best,” she said.

Similarly, Find My Forté, Career Analysts, and other private user-pays services targeted at providing career advisory services to young people (among others) appear to take a tailored approach around the individual’s interests and needs.

There are some useful career guidance resources – in print and online – that can also help students (and their parents) decide on future study and career options. For example, the leading print resource is the JET series, which last year published the JET Career Guide (for career and other post-secondary options) and JET Study Guide (for tertiary course options). The JET guides are sold from the publisher individually or in class sets.

What’s next for careers education?

For all the merits of external agencies and services, the possibility of outsourcing CIAGE services has been met with staunch opposition by some.

Careers and Transition Education Association (CATE), an association representing 700 professional members working in the careers and transitional education sector, clearly stated its opposition to the idea in its submission to the Ministry of Education following the announcement of a formal CIAGE review.

In its submission, CATE reasoned that “in the experience of our members, this has not led to better outcomes for learners. This is because outsourced provision alone does not lend itself to understanding the needs of individual learners or their families/whānau and does not integrate effectively within the learning community.”

CATE and other parties with a vested interest in the outcome of the CIAGE review, not least the schools and tertiary institutions themselves, will have to sit tight for a little while longer in their wait for answers. Correspondence from Minister of Education Hekia Parata reveals that a report back to Cabinet on the outcomes of the CIAGE review has been deferred to March this year. Attempts to obtain answers via the Official Information Act have proved fruitless, so those anxious to know which direction New Zealand’s career education programme will take must continue to play the waiting game.

Disclosure: The JET series is produced by APN Educational Media, the publisher of Education Review.