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How can effective career education be achieved for students from low socioeconomic backgrounds?

Written by Kylie Austin1, Olivia Groves2, Sarah O’Shea2 and Jodi Lamanna1

Effective career education has the potential to help all individuals to reach their full potential, by reducing the gap in educational and employment outcomes between students from different socioeconomic backgrounds. In Australian schools, the current provision of career education has been identified to be outdated and not adequately preparing students for life after school.

This article shares the findings and recommendations from the NCSEHE-funded project, Higher education career advice for students from low socioeconomic status backgrounds. This 18-month study critically investigated best-practice initiatives in career education for primary and secondary students from low socioeconomic status (SES) backgrounds, including those in regional, rural and remote (RRR) areas of Australia. Five hundred and sixty-four research participants shared their experience of career education in Australia, including secondary school students, university students, non-school leavers, parents and stakeholders from universities, vocational education providers, government, and private organisations engaged in the provision of career education.

The research found that access to effective career education was found to be a “game of chance” for students in Australian schools. The absence of a staged and systemic approach to career education often resulted in students receiving limited access to career guidance, workplace learning and other career education activities. A large reason for this was schools’ reliance on a single career adviser, who often had inadequate time and resources to reach all the students within the school. This often resulted in career education being largely student-directed and relied on students having developed a personal connection with their career adviser. To overcome this challenge there is a need for a resourced careers curriculum in schools.

A range of key influencers were identified to have both positive and negative impacts on students’ post-secondary education and employment choices. Parents, teachers, career advisers and the students themselves were named by the participants in this study as being influential on their career and educational decision making. However, there was a lack of clarity amongst the individuals in these groups about who was responsible for providing career guidance to students, with some believing it should occur in the home, and others in the school setting. Where key influencers had access to accurate information and resources and could engage in supportive career conversations with the student, this was identified to lead to positive post-secondary choices.

Navigating the post-secondary education and employment environment is complex and requires increased collaboration between stakeholders in tertiary education and industry to make this transition as seamless as possible for students. Communities across Australia, particularly in RRR Australia have unique challenges in accessing education and employment, therefore partners need to work alongside these communities to co-design, co-implement and co-evaluate career education opportunities. Multi-stakeholder partnerships that include universities, vocational education providers, schools, industry and local community organisations have the potential to increase students’ exposure to a range of post-secondary options, whilst meeting the needs of students in specific communities.

This article provides insights into how career education could be reshaped in the Australian context to meet the needs of students from low SES backgrounds. Continued research is needed to monitor how career education during secondary school affects the post-school destination of students in the medium-term. Additionally, research is required to understand the needs and capabilities of industry and community bodies as they relate to partnership work with schools to provide quality career education for all students, but particularly those from low SES backgrounds.

1University of Wollongong
2Curtin University

The final report will be published by the NCSEHE in 2022.

Posted 6 December 2021 Posted in General, Low SES, Regional, rural and remote