Factors affecting high school students' career choices and implications for teaching career education

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  • Do you know what you want to be when you grow up? Beyond recognition of an individual’s interests, skills and abilities, what can contribute to a better understanding of the career exploration process? Preparing for a career is a trend in Canadian society as Statistics Canada (2013) observed that 11,782,700 or 64.1% of adults aged 25 to 64 in 2011 had postsecondary qualifications while the 2006 Census reported 60.7% of Canadians aged 25 to 64 obtained a postsecondary qualification. What are the factors, both seen and unseen, that impact the process and unconsciously influence decisions pertaining to career pathways and school to work transitions? This paper examines factors affecting high school students’ perceptions of career selection as well as access to career related opportunities and the constraints to these options. Within this paper, the objective is to better understand perceptions of career selection that impact high school students and how an enhanced understanding of these perceptions can be used by students, parents and teachers to better assist high school students in their transitions from high school. The key research question for this research is: What factors beyond personal interest, skills and abilities affect high school students’ career choices? Building from this question, the specific sub-research questions that this study sought to answer were: 1) What information would aid in a more authentic career decision process between student, parent and teacher? 2) Whose opinion about career choices matters most to high school students (e.g., parents, teachers, peers, other)? Through an extensive literature review of academic peer-reviewed research books and articles, six main themes were identified: a) parental involvement, b) societal views of university and vocational career pathways, c) societal inequalities, d) location and condition of the labor market, e) student motivation as well as preparedness to transition from high school to a post-secondary or work environment, and f) education’s alternative purpose as an economic market as well as student development. Several links were made that considerably strengthen individual bias such as the interrelated nature of societal views of both university and vocational education, parental involvement and the motivation of the student. When these pressures are combined, students are persuaded towards a particular education and career. Research shows that a great number of these career aspirations do not materialize for a variety of reasons (parental support, available resources, applicable knowledge and experience) (Feller, 2003, p. 265). In contrast, while academic options are sought after and revered, their counterpart, vocational education is its opposite with a diminished status. The difficulties encountered in academic streams lead to a secondary or backup choice that is more fruitful. The secondary choice is often vocational in nature providing a stable livelihood for a later academic attempt that may be successful. Findings show many inconsistencies between the perceived attitudes and related behavior compared to the actual preparation performed by parent(s) and student in career exploration. Studies drawing on Beck and Giddens’ individualisation theory (as cited in Lehmann et al. 2013, p. 2) suggest that today’s youth are more comfortable with uncertainty and with making their own biographies. Structured, knowledgeable and informed discussions about career options are encouraged by career pathways practitioners. Mentors such as school counsellors are suggested to expand post-secondary opportunities using numerous available resources. To further our understanding, the driving motivations behind the behaviours that impact our career decisions like social reproduction, parental involvement as well as desires must be tempered with student engagement to achieve career and learning goals. These undertones reinforce the evidence that parents involvement in their child’s education is a significant predictor of school achievement and that children look to their parents opinions first when exploring career opportunities. As a practical application of this paper, an easily accessible web-based tool has been devised to assist in comprehending, disseminating and organizing the extensive amounts of career exploration information available.

    Keywords: vocational education, university, career exploration, school to work transitions, career pathways, post-secondary education transition

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    Research Material
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    Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International