Career education that works

by Anthony Mann
Director of Policy and Research, Education and Employers Taskforce

The benefits of employers engaging with education has long been reported and promoted within policy circles. The UK’s Department for Education, for example, has recently produced guidance for schools stating the need for student learning from the world of work within careers provision. Internationally, the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) has reported the benefits associated with employer involvement in education. (See, for example: Learning for Jobs).

Despite international interest surrounding the topic, research has failed to keep pace with policy instincts that career education will benefit young people going into the labour market. In a new article, published in the peer-reviewed, international Journal of Education and Work, Elnaz Kashefpakdel and Chris Percy offer new insights into the relationship between career talks with outside people experienced whilst in school and later earnings. They draw upon the limited work that already exists in the area – particularly that of Mann and Percy (2014), which surveyed 1,000 young adults aged 19-24 recalling their school days and found a significant wage premium linked to the degree of exposure young people had with school-mediated employer engagement activities.

This new work analyses data from the British Cohort Study (BCS70), which tracks 17,000 individuals throughout their lives. It provides a rich and reliable set of measurements including socio-economic factors which could potentially affect income, i.e. parental social class, academic ability, home learning environment and demographics. Through statistical analysis, it is possible to take account of such factors in assessing the impact of specific interventions in determining economic outcomes.

The BCS survey offers an interesting data set for analysis related to career interventions due to the timing of its questioning in 1986, when respondents were teenagers. During the 1980s in the UK, government was rolling out the Technical and Vocational Education Initiative (TVEI). The Initiative aimed to help prepare young people for entry into the labour market and served to drive greater activity within schools. The nature of the Initiative often meant that young people were obliged to attend career talks and related sessions, though these activities varied considerably across schools and local authorities.

Data was collected during 1986 regarding young people’s opinions of any careers talks they encountered and was compared to their earnings aged 26, using statistical analysis techniques. Results revealed that, on average, for each career talk with someone from outside of the school experienced at age 14-15 young people benefited from a 0.8% wage premium when they were 26. These findings are statistically significant at 5%, meaning that there is a 95% certainty this correlation did not occur by chance. This relationship was not found for those aged 15-16, which implies that career talks had a greater value for the younger cohort.

Analysis also found a statistically significant relationship between student perceptions of the career talks that they experienced and later earnings. Students who found career talks to be ‘very helpful’ at age 14-15 were compared with those who found careers talks ‘not at all helpful/not very helpful’. Findings demonstrated that for students aged 14-15 who found career talks ‘very helpful’ witnessed a 1.6% increase in earnings per career talk they attended. This also proved significant for young people aged 15-16; with a smaller affect size, they benefited from a 0.9% earnings boost.

These findings provide a clear relationship between the number of career talks attended, and their helpfulness, and relative earnings at age 26. This provides a solid evidence-base for increasing the volume and quality of career talks with outside speakers in education.  Findings revealed that the impact of careers talks were more pronounced for the younger age group, 14-15, than they were for the elder group, 15-16. The authors argue that at the older age group young people may be more focused on examinations, while the younger group may have been more likely to be receptive to career talks due to the year group being more of an explorative period. Thus, perhaps the most desirable age group to deliver career talks to is 14-15 year-olds.

The authors hypothesis that it is difficult to gain new knowledge and skills, known as human capital, through such short duration episodes of engagement with the labour market. However, they could gain access to new, useful and trusted information and networks while interacting with professionals in an episodic manner. It is in this realm of social and cultural capital accumulation that enables young people to gain resources of meaning from the activities, such as career talks. Additionally, the findings are in line with the argument that through the repeated encounters with people from outside schools, young people are able to find helpful information about pathways to their career ambitions.

To read more about the study, visit the website of the Education and Employers Research.
Photo Credit: Careers bulb word cloud, business concept @Shutterstock

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