How student attitudes towards the value of education can be shaped by careers education – evidence from the OECD’s PISA study

by Anthony Mann 
Director of Policy and Research, Education and Employers Taskforce, London, UK
Dr Elnaz T. Kashefpakdel 
Senior Researcher, Education and Employers Taskforce, London, UK

As governments around the world seek to tackle stubbornly high levels of youth unemployment, new attention has been focused on the relationship between education and employment. Both researchers and policy-makers have looked afresh at the capacity of employers to engage in education and training to improve young people’s preparation for the adult working world. Building on two landmark reports, Learning for Jobs and Skills beyond School, the OECD is itself in the midst of a multi-year, multi-country study of work-based learning looking initially at the engagement of employers in apprenticeship provision aimed at youth at risk and incentives for apprenticeship. Last year saw the publication in the UK of a government-sponsored literature review looking at evidence, from OECD countries since 1996, using Randomised Controlled Trials and quasi-experimental (longitudinal) approaches. That review looked for evidence of the efficacy of careers education (covering classic career guidance, work-related learning, employer engagement and enterprise education) in enhancing young people’s prospects. The study looked at 73 studies and found that some two-thirds found evidence of largely positive economic and educational outcomes. In so doing, the review added to a growing awareness that engagement of the working world within the educational process can improve employment outcomes, but also opened up a new area of enquiry: can employer engagement enhance student educational performance and if so, how does it do it? Drilling down into five UK studies, the review found a literature which offered evidence of ‘relatively modest attainment boosts’ linked to a ‘hypothesis that careers education helps young people to better understand the relationship between educational goals and occupational outcomes, increasing pupil motivation and application.’

A new study of PISA data now offers insight into how such relationships might work.  It draws on data from the OECD’s 2012 study in which some countries opted to ask 15-year old participants whether they had taken part in a series of career development activities (CDA). In the new analysis, data from six countries was used (Australia, Belgium, Canada, Denmark, Finland and Ireland) in relation to participation in four popular careers-focused activities commonly delivered through schools: taking part in Internships, Job shadowing, Job fairs and speaking with a careers advisor in school. In a regression analysis which took account of a common range of social, demographic and behavioral characteristics which routinely influence student success in education, participation in CDA was tested to see if it influenced attitudes towards schooling. Responses to four statements were tested including School is a waste of time, School helps to get a job and School does little to prepare you for life.

In most cases, a positive and statistically significant relationship between participation in career development activities and more positive attitudes towards the utility of schooling was found. The most consistent positive effects are found in relationship to speaking with a careers advisor in school and attending a Job fair. Relationships are particularly strong in Finland and Ireland. The study offers fresh insight into the complex relationship between education and employment and how young people’s attitudes about education and its value can potentially be influenced by schools and colleges by exposing students to new experiences. Further analysis of the relationship between participation in CDA and performance on the PISA tests is planned.

OECD Reviews of Vocational Education and Training:

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Photo credit: Careers Employment Job Recruitment Occupation Concept @shutterstock 

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