Why the world may not be their oyster

7th March 2014 at 00:00
Students `falling through the net' with online jobs advice service

Earlier intervention is required to break down gender stereotypes and ensure that young people have access to the right career paths, experts have told the Scottish Parliament's Education and Culture Committee.

Dr Cathy Howieson, from the University of Edinburgh's Centre for Educational Sociology, told MSPs that work needed to start in primary schools to challenge the assumptions held by young people about potential careers.

Her colleague, Sheila Semple, added that it was not sufficient "to put a group of girls in front of a female group of engineers".

The two academics were giving evidence in a session on My World of Work, an online careers service run by Skills Development Scotland (SDS). The wider careers advice offered by SDS in Scottish schools was also under discussion.

Last year, TESS reported that the academics' research questioned the effectiveness of My World of Work because of the risk of young people losing out on face-to-face contact. The service was launched in 2011 to offer online information and careers guidance.

According to SDS, more than 364,000 people are now registered. But both the researchers and representatives from public service union Unison have raised serious concerns about the difficulties faced by young people in trying to access a face-to-face interview with a careers adviser.

Dr Howieson said she was in support of an integrated system, including an online platform, but added that the research had shown the importance of face-to-face contact as well.

Unison's James Corry said his members had concerns that some young people might "fall through the net". This could happen with children characterised as "minimum risk" who would usually be able to navigate the system and achieve a positive destination, he argued.

"There is no research that says the cleverer you are, the less likely you are to need careers advice," Mr Corry said. Students from all backgrounds could be unfocused or uncertain in their choice of career path and therefore require additional help, he added.

Dr Howieson agreed. "If you look at dropout rates for modern apprenticeships, FE [further education] and HE [higher education], I don't think we can be complacent about the fact that some young people are still not getting much in the way of careers advice and guidance," she said.

The experts said that students were often also not aware of the availability and purpose of their school's careers adviser. But Danny Logue, director of careers at SDS, said the organisation's own research had shown that was not the case. He explained that SDS was offering a universal service, which included two sessions for every S4 student, as well as a targeted service for those identified as needing extra help.

Students could also meet advisers at drop-in career clinics, he said. It was important for there to be some flexibility in the system so that those who required additional support could have it, he added.

Mr Logue also pointed out the changing expectations of young people and the way in which they accessed information. A number of surveys of My World of Work users had shown the success and usability of the web platform, he said. The web service has been updated a number of times since its launch.

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