Television dramas and reality shows play a greater role in pupils' career choice than real-life experience of potential careers. But the medium also allows pupils to consider career paths that they might otherwise have assumed were closed to them.
Academics from London Metropolitan University spoke to 98 teenagers about their career goals and perceptions of different careers. They found that, for many pupils, TV dramas offer an insight into the way the working world operates.
This is summed up by one of the interviewees, who remarks that the police drama The Bill "doesn't really make me, like, want to be a police officer. But it's just good to see how it works."
Television is accepted as a true depiction of life, regardless of pupils' own experiences of the reality on which it is based. For example, Emily- May, one of the interviewees, chooses to judge teachers' out-of-school lives on the series Waterloo Road, rather than on the experiences of her mother, who is a teacher.
This construction of an alternate, TV-based reality, however, also allows pupils to see beyond the confines of their own experience. For example, one teenage girl's admiration for female characters in The Bill has led her to consider a career in the police force. In particular, she talks about the success of Detective Inspector Samantha Nixon (played by Lisa Maxwell), in a male-dominated workforce: "You know how usually they say men are higher up? But in there she's the highest . I would definitely be happy with that."
Similarly, one of the boys said his view of the working world had been altered when working-class contestant Lee McQueen won the recent series of The Apprentice. He said: "Lee, who won, he was quite common . All the other series . you see the people who win it are very posh . But he wasn't. He was quite common and quite a grafter . And then you can sort of try and do it the same way."
But pupils are aware of the shortcomings of TV's version of reality. They know there is a difference between becoming a doctor and becoming a TV doctor. Referring to the lead character in the medical drama House, played by Hugh Laurie , one girl said: "He can say whatever he likes and he's still in his job . I think it's cool to be that free."
Equally, they accept that TV reality is often shaped by stereotypes. Emily-May says: "When you watch lots of telly, you probably think all businesswomen are pushy."
And she is aware that not all market stallholders share the "sluttiness" and "chaviness" of EastEnders market trader Stacey Slater, played by Lacey Turner.
The researchers said: "This raises important questions about the messages that are still being transmitted through television about social class, ethnicity, gender, status, and the social world."
Nonetheless, they believe that school careers advisers should acknowledge the influence of television on pupils' careers choices.
They said: "If lived experience can be overruled by televisual representations, stereotypes must be challenged with greater strength."
- `You're hired: the intersections of class, race and gender in young people's constructions of work in television' by Katya Williams and Heather Mendick.