Investing in career guidance: Helping youth out of the COVID pandemic

Teenage boy with back to camera sits and talks with school career advisor in an office

By Anthony Mann

Senior Policy Analyst, OECD Directorate for Education and Skills

and Glenda Quintini

Senior Economist, OECD Directorate for Employment, Labour and Social Affairs

Key points:

– Career guidance has a fundamental role to play in COVID recovery and helping young people navigate turbulent labour markets.
– In 2018, only half of 15-year-olds in OECD countries had spoken to a career advisor at school.
– A new publication from the OECD, Cedefop, European Commission, European Training Foundation, ILO and UNESCO highlights the importance of investing in career guidance.

In celebration of World Youth Skills Day 2021, the OECD has joined forces with the European Centre for the Development of Vocational Training (Cedefop), the European Commission, the European Training Foundation, the International Labour Organisation (ILO) and the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) to shine a light on career guidance. As countries around the world turn to their plans for recovery from the COVID-19 pandemic, these organisations are issuing a joint leaflet highlighting the importance of Investing in Career Guidance.

Career guidance helps people of any age manage their careers and make the educational, training and occupational choices that are right for them. It is particularly important for young people as it helps them to reflect on their ambitions, interests, qualifications, skills and talents and to relate this knowledge about who they are to who they might become in the world of work.

Investing in career guidance to broaden young people’s aspirations

Even prior to the pandemic, career guidance was receiving increased attention from policy makers, reflecting a concern that the skills developed in the education system might not be well aligned with emerging labour market needs, generating costly skill mismatches and shortages. The results of the triennial OECD Programme for International Assessment (PISA) give cause for concern. In 2018, only half of students in OECD countries reported that they had spoken to a career guidance counsellor in school by the age of 15, and fewer than 40% attended important guidance activities like job shadowing, workplace visits or job fairs.

Investing in career guidance can help broaden young people’s aspirations and reduce inequalities

Analysis of the career ambitions of 15-year-old students shows that the aspirations of students are heavily shaped by socio-economic status, gender and migrant background. Investing in career guidance can help broaden young people’s aspirations and reduce inequalities. It can also help overcome career uncertainty about occupational choices, which increased by 81% between 2000 and 2018. When students do name the type of job in which they expect to work as an adult, relatively little evidence of labour market signalling is apparent. Across the OECD, more than half of teenagers around the world plan on working in one of ten specific occupations. Outside of the OECD, this proportion often rises to above 70%.

How career guidance can help during COVID recovery

The need for guidance has increased sharply in the context of the COVID-19 pandemic. The crisis has deeply disrupted the demand for workers and accelerated patterns of automation that are profoundly changing the character of work and increasing risks of unemployment, particularly for young people. As young people stay in schooling longer, and confront an ever-wider choice of education and training options, it is essential that they can draw a clear connection between what they do in the classroom and who they might become in the workplace. The new joint leaflet argues that guidance has an essential role to play in enabling youth to navigate increasingly turbulent transitions. Career guidance has a fundamental role to play in the recovery.

Chart showing percentage of 15-year-olds who have spoken to a career advisor at their school
Source: Data from the Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA, 2018)

The benefits of career guidance are widely documented. New analyses of national longitudinal datasets show that better-than-expected adult employment outcomes are commonly associated with how school-age teenagers think about their future careers, whether they explore possible employment options and gain work experience while still in school. Participation in career guidance by young adults has been associated with wage premiums, lower rates of unemployment and greater career satisfaction as well as increased academic motivation and more positive attitudes towards school.

The leaflet highlights a number of effective ways to enrich career guidance in schools, stressing the importance of access from an early age and of enriching guidance through the involvement of employers and people in work. As the COVID-19 pandemic ushers in a period of profound disruption, the need to close the gap between education and employment through effective guidance becomes ever more urgent.

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