Why students make wrong career choices
The guidance counselling services provided by schools are often too little and too late, reports Kim Bielenberg
Thousands of school-leavers are missing out on suitable college or career choices, because of poor planning.
The career guidance received by students in schools is patchy, and choices are distorted by the CAO points race, according to Eimear Sinnott of the website careersportal.ie.
She said students were often making course choices for the wrong reasons.
"You hear of students wanting to go to a particular college or university, because of the social life, and choosing a subject because their friends are doing it."
Sinnott said poor choices were leading to huge drop-out rates in some courses.
"Part of the problem is that students are not finding out enough about courses before they go into them. For example, students who study psychology are often unaware that there is a strong maths element to the course. So, they struggle to keep up," she says.
"Only 5pc of students receive any career guidance in school in the Junior Cycle. That is clearly not enough.''
A recent ESRI report highlighted the shortcomings in the system.
In many schools guidance is largely confined to sixth-year students.
The report said: "Many students feel it would have been helpful to have had guidance at an earlier stage in the schooling process. Many young people are now regretting not having taken the subjects or subject levels necessary to access their preferred destination.''
Among the key findings of the ESRI report were:
•Too much emphasis is placed on points and gaining entry to prestigious college courses.
•Pupils complained of feeling "overwhelmed" and rushed by the importance of the decisions they faced in their Leaving Cert year.
•There is a lack of one-to-one sessions to tease out each individual situation.
•Many students chose colleges because they were close to their home, while others found colleges in Dublin "intimidating''.
The report found that pupils were making important choices on their future before they had even sat the Junior Cert -- including which subjects to take, and whether to take higher or ordinary level.
But many pupils complained that they had not received early advice on how this would shape their future college and career choices.
Guidance counsellor Andree Harpur, co-author of Sorted, a new guide for parents about career choices, says the sole responsibility does not lie with schools.
"It is up to parents and the students themselves to find out as much as possible about the courses and career options available.''
Harpur says students should be encouraged to explore the options thoroughly. This might even involve a student interviewing someone who works in an area that they are interested in.
She adds that parents are well positioned to give their children advice, because they are often aware of their natural talents, beyond academic ability.
"A parent can see abilities that may not be picked up in school. For example, you could have a child who has disassembled every mechanical object in your house from the age of two.
"They may have a very lucrative career in engineering or mechanics ahead of them.''
Eimear Sinnott says some parents are still pushing their children in a certain direction because they feel certain professions have social status.
"People are still inclined to want to go into medicine or law, because they are seen as prestigious courses.
"At the same time, engineering is undervalued even though there is a huge demand for graduates.''
She refers to the recent announcement that the US company Bioware is providing 200 customer support jobs for its computer game Star Wars: The Old Republic.
"Who would have thought a Star Wars game would create 200 jobs here? Parents might spend half their time telling their kids -- 'Get off that computer game!' They don't realise that there are jobs in computer games.''
Sinnott says transition year could play an important role in helping students to decide on their future career direction.
"Students can learn a lot from work experience, but there needs to be less reliance on traditional jobs and more opportunities for students to do work experience in some of the innovative areas.''
Together with ICT Ireland, the body that represents the technology sector, careersportal.ie is promoting 100 new transition year placements in the IT industry.
The recent ESRI report on guidance counselling found that the service was particularly important for working-class students.
Pupils from middle-class areas had ready access to information about higher education from their parents and siblings.
The report said: "Some students in working-class schools felt that school staff held low expectations of them and expressed frustration that they were encouraged to focus on 'realistic' options rather than to 'do their best'.
"By contrast, in more middle-class schools, progressing to higher education was taken for granted, with discussion focusing on which colleges to attend and which courses to pursue.''
Sorted, A Survival Guide for Parents of Students Making a Career Choice by Andree Harpur and Mary Quirke is published by Kite Books, blackhallpublishing.com
'Work experience was key'
Lorcan O'Byrne, a student at High School in Dublin, used his work experience in Transition Year to help to decide on a career.
Lorcan (16) spent his first placement working with a doctor at the Beacon Hospital. In his second placement, he worked with psychiatric nurses at St Ita's hospital in Portrane in north Co Dublin.
Lorcan is this year's overall winner in the National Career Skills Award. Coco Ní Chionaigh from Coláiste Íosagáin won the prize for an entry submitted In Irish.
Contestants for the awards, organised by careersportal.ie and sponsored by McDonald's, have to write a detailed report on their chosen career, and relate it to their work experience.
Lorcan O'Byrne said: "I have been considering a career in medicine for some time. My work experience helped me to make up my mind about what I want to do.
"I think you also learn a lot about issues such as respect and punctuality.''