Wednesday 21 August 2019

John Walshe: 'School-leavers are clueless about the real world of work - and urgently need to learn'

Career plan: Students sitting their Leaving Cert don’t have a clear grasp of the jobs market
Career plan: Students sitting their Leaving Cert don’t have a clear grasp of the jobs market

John Walshe

New research confirms what we have long suspected - most of those entering college have no idea what kind of jobs their course will lead to. They know little or nothing about labour market trends in their chosen field of study, or about self-employment possibilities, and they are the first to admit it.

Alarmingly, one in five students (21.3pc) said it was only when they got to college that they first started thinking about their future careers.

Is it any wonder so many drop out when they realise the course they ended up in was the wrong choice for them?

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Leaving Cert students get plenty of information about courses and CAO points but they clearly don't hear enough about the realities of life in the labour market now or in the future.

Only one in three feel they were given sufficient information about jobs and careers when they were in secondary school. There is a "low level" of satisfaction with information on employment trends and other aspects of labour market opportunities.

They attend lots of college open days and fairs, but only 11pc have ever visited a jobs fair compared with an OECD average of 28.3pc.

Surprisingly, less than half (43pc) of students had a one-to-one session with a guidance counsellor. Yet such sessions have a significant impact on students' chances of going to college. This holds particularly true for males from lower-income groups where there may be no family tradition of higher education.

Ivan Yates had a rant this week on his 'The Hard Shoulder' programme on Newstalk about guidance counsellors knowing everything about courses but not about real jobs. The study shows that there is truth to what he says, although many counsellors will disagree.

The study includes details of a survey of 1,818 students across second-level, higher and further education which was conducted by Indecon International Research Economists. It concludes that there is "a relatively low level of intensive engagement by students in Ireland with the world of work".

Indecon counted 261 open days and career fairs last year but most related to education and training opportunities, which shows the success and professionalism of the higher-education sector in engaging with students. But there is less access to career fairs involving opportunities to meet with employers.

It found that students from lower socio-economic groups, who are the very students most in need of enterprise engagement and talking to employers, have less access to such engagement than other social groups. Only 7.1pc of students in Ireland had engaged in internships, which is much lower than the average in the OECD.

The irony is that the counsellors acknowledge their lack of knowledge about the labour market. A total of 440 counsellors were surveyed for the same review of career guidance and a minority said they were satisfied with the quality of information on self-employment, apprenticeships and on employment trends.

There is excellent labour market information available from various sources including the Solas Skills and Labour Market Research Unit, the Expert Group on Future Skills Needs, Regional Skills Fora, the Higher Education Authority and others.

But students are not introduced to these sources while in school. Only 7pc of secondary school students and 16pc of third-level students use the information available from these multiple sources. Clearly more need to know to help familiarise them with these sources and to use the information that is readily available online. Ibec argues that high-quality labour market information must be provided to all stakeholders, including students and parents.

Indecon agrees that there is a major gap in access to this area of career information in the Irish career guidance and training system. It says it is important for individuals to learn how to use and interpret labour market information.

A detailed but unidentified submission to Indecon for its review said the "poor" level of information available is a contributory factor to social and economic problems, including a misalignment between the needs of employers and the skills of the workforce, as well as a lower level of social mobility.

But Ireland is not unique in this. Ensuring that there is accurate and accessible labour market information is also a challenge for other developed countries. This has been highlighted in a report from the OECD, which said that "common weaknesses in career information include: a failure to include information on labour market supply and demand; delays in capturing changes in the content of occupations or in identifying new occupations; the absence of information on the destination and labour market outcomes of those completing courses of education and training; a greater emphasis upon educational information than upon occupational and labour market information; and weak links between these two different domains".

The Indecon study was carried out for a review commissioned by former education minister Richard Bruton. The steering committee was chaired by Dr Tom Collins.

The report concludes that significant gaps exist in our guidance system. There is an urgent need to enhance effective enterprise engagement and to make greater use of technology blended with other guidance supports. There is also a need for reform to organisational structures to support the provision of high quality, lifelong and life-wide career information guidance. It calls for the appointment of a national policy group to develop a coherent, long-term strategy for lifelong career guidance. This should be a priority.

Irish Independent

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