Mothers know best as career guidance loses out in schools
Thousands of students are not getting one-to-one advice about their future.
Career guidance should help to mould the futures of young people, setting them on the path to a fulfilling job. But many Irish second-level students are receiving inadequate advice.
According to the Institute of Guidance Counsellors, up to 200 Irish second-level schools have no one-to-one career guidance. That means that thousands of school-leavers have to go it alone when choosing courses and training options, or rely on help from parents, family and friends. The situation has been worsened as a result of cutbacks in the recession.
Research by the Economic and Social Research Institute (ESRI) on young people leaving school shows that it is the Irish mother who is seen as the most helpful source of information for students, closely followed by the guidance counsellor. Mothers were seen as the most useful advisers in 25pc of cases.
Fathers were mentioned far less frequently than mothers as the main source of useful advice at 12pc.
The research suggests children from less well-off backgrounds and immigrants rely most heavily on guidance counsellors for help with their future careers. At middle-class schools, students have a readymade network and more role models to follow.
ESRI researcher, Professor Emer Smyth, says: "Middle-class students draw on a good deal of insider knowledge of the higher education system from their parents and siblings."
According to the ESRI's research, the majority of school leavers (65pc) were satisfied or very satisfied with the career advice they received at school. However, a significant minority (36pc) were dissatisfied or very dissatisfied.
Betty McLaughlin, president of the Institute of Guidance Counsellors, says: "Guidance has been decimated in some schools during the economic downturn because of government cutbacks, and in most cases, it was halved. It is now very much at the discretion of a principal how much career guidance there is in a school. It is now a disjointed service that is not accessible to all students."
The importance of careers advice was raised in a recent Accenture report on Irish women in science and technology.
The report said parents, teachers and students may be uninformed about careers in science, technology, engineering and maths (STEM) subjects.
The report highlighted a need for better support for guidance counsellors in supplying information on the range of careers available.
Betty McLaughlin says the lack of one-to-one careers advice in schools is contributing to high drop-out rates in college.
"Career guidance is a very individual thing. It usually doesn't work in a group. There is no point in a class learning about what it is like to be in the Gardai as a career if many of the students are not interested."
At government level, there is now an emphasis on steering students towards STEM subjects in order to meet the country's skills shortage.
According to the recent Accenture report, the low proportion of women (25pc) working in jobs in science and technology-related fields posed a threat to our economic growth.
Betty McLaughlin says: "I would always encourage girls who are interested in maths and science to pursue them.
"It is all about working to your strengths, whatever they are. It is important to encourage students to pick something they like when they are choosing subjects, because when they are in college they will have to be self-directed learners."
The ESRI has highlighted the fact that many students are not getting advice early enough in second-level school. "We would have found that some young people get to senior cycle and find they have not picked the right subject or subject level that they need to take particular courses at third level," says the ESRI's Prof Smyth.
Girls need role models to work in tech jobs
Girls are being encouraged to follow careers in science and technology in an initiative known as I Wish.
Up to 1,000 students from schools across Co Cork recently took part in events attended by female role models from companies such as Twitter, Google and Pfizer.
Research by the Higher Education Authority (HEA) showed that just 16pc of entrants to computer science courses in Ireland were women. Overall, the number of women entering Stem courses has dropped over the past decade, from 47pc to 40pc.
Mary Moloney, chief executive of Coder Dojo, a group that promotes coding skills among children, says girls should be encouraged to pursue science and technology careers.
"Girls tend to be pre-conditioned to believe that boys are the computer geeks, but when women have role models that they can follow, they become interested."