Finding a career path requires a specialist map

7th March 2014 at 00:00

Choosing which path or career to follow after school is one of the most difficult decisions in any young person's life. Indeed, it is one that often begins years before they leave.

It is therefore not surprising that the dramatic changes in schools' careers services have attracted more than their fair share of attention - most notably, the introduction of web platform My World of Work. This week it was under scrutiny again, by the Scottish Parliament's Education and Culture Committee (see pages 7-8).

Over the past year or so, TESS has regularly reported on the concerns of researchers, union members and others about the service, which many say has moved away from face-to-face advice and one-on-one interviews to focus too much on the internet.

There is no doubting that My World of Work is extensive. Skills Development Scotland, the body responsible for the service, is also quick to point to evidence showing that the service improves career management skills. The body further stresses that face-to-face advice is available for those who need it.

But in one area at least a web service will always fall short of a one-to-one session run by a qualified professional: in its level of generalisation. Moreover, assuming that young people can make do with an online database presumes a level of digital literacy that research has shown they may not necessarily have when it comes to planning their career.

Another concern is that assumptions are being made about who requires extra face-to-face guidance (and who can get by with My World of Work alone) based on generalisations about their background and school performance.

It must not be assumed that children who do well in school and have educated, healthy parents do not need someone to guide them through the system. Family and friends cannot be expected to take sole responsibility for helping young people to navigate the maze that is the modern labour market.

I could not help but be amused listening to my father, a doctor, throwing questions about anatomy across the dinner table at my medical student sister, because the number of bones in the human body was one of the very few things that had not changed in the training of doctors since he was a student himself. And it is certainly impossible to blame him for being out of his depth when it came to helping me in finding my way into journalism.

The danger is that a lack of support will lead some young people to make rushed and inappropriate choices they may come to regret. We will never know how often this happens, because many of them will still probably secure a place at university or college and hence be recorded as a positive statistic. But they will still miss the opportunity of following the fulfilling, successful path that is right for them.

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