Outdated and insufficient careers education is leaving students anxious, lost and directionless when considering their options for the future, experts warn.
Monash University senior research fellow Jo Gleeson said it was often up to individual schools to decide the time and resources they dedicated to career education, which wasn’t always prioritised due to competing pressures with workforce shortages, student mental health and academic goals.
A study of nearly 2800 students in years 10 to 12 showed one-third felt they had insufficient information to make career choices.Credit:iStock
“These students are lost, feel directionless, feel like they don’t know where to go or where to do and feeling really stressed about it,” she said.
Gleeson has worked in career education for about 10 years and said the career anxiety of students was “very real”.
Little Ripples is a primary school introduction to work aspirations, but career education and guidance doesn’t formally begin until Year 7 in Victoria. Gleeson, along with Career Industry Council of Australia and other peak bodies, want careers education to be included into the curriculum as a subject.
“Unless it is mainstream in Australian curriculum, it will always just be like a side gig in a school,” she said.
A 2022 Monash University study of nearly 2800 students in years 10 to 12, entitled Young women choosing careers: Who decides?, showed one-third felt they had insufficient information to make career choices. More than half in the study felt overwhelmed and needed more help to navigate it.
The Smith Family’s 2022 national Pathways, Engagement and Transitions study found 86 per cent of young people received careers support at school, but just over half found it helpful. One in 10 said it was not useful at all.
The Australian Centre for Career Education Victorian chief executive officer Penne Dawe said career practitioners who were also teachers weren’t always given enough time to deliver programs.
Even though the Department of Education funded training scholarships for teachers, it “does not mean every school has a career professional”, Dawe said. She said a principal may choose to save money by having someone in that role who isn’t highly qualified or up to date with the job market.
“You can’t just have a science teacher walk into a classroom and teach career education,” she said.
The Career Industry Council of Australia – the peak body – is working to professionalise the industry with a register for career development practitioners who need to adhere to CICA’s standards, and complete professional development hours.
“The job of schools is to prepare students for the workforce, having a sense of agency about your choices and where you are heading,” she said.
CICA executive director David Carney said career education should be non-pathway specific, but said it may not always be, especially at high fee-paying private schools where parents were keen for their children to go to university.
Submissions into a federal parliamentary inquiry on the perception and status of vocational education and training say poor career guidance in schools is fuelling an image problem for trades, often increasing student anxiety with gendered and outdated views of certain careers.
In 2019, the Victorian state government committed $109 million to career education reform over four years and a further $26.7 million for ongoing reform, including bringing career education earlier to Year 7 and 8 students with career self-exploration workshops and a MyCareer e-portfolios for Year 7 – 12 students.
Monash University Professor Lucas Walsh said the government’s move to introduce career education earlier for students was a positive step forward, but there was sometimes a disconnect between policy and schools.
“The rubber hits the road with implementation. If the signals aren’t sent strongly to schools that this is important and it’s going to be competing with other demands,” he said.
Walsh said students formed views on careers from parents, schools and peers and were sometimes receiving poor-quality information outside of school that causes “enormous anxiety”.
A Department of Employment and Workplace Relations spokesperson said the inquiry into the VET sector was a way to highlight its value and improve its reputation.
“The evidence shows that children are influenced about work and education pathways at a young age and that much work is needed to address gender issues in the VET sector,” the spokesperson said.
A Department of Education spokesperson said they were “transforming” career education in schools and that a range of initiatives were available to all Victorian students from the time they start secondary school.
“Our career education programs are part of our broader transformation of senior secondary education in Victoria, which includes the introduction of the VCE Vocational Major and improved access to VET in schools,” they said.
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