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Career development, not guidance, emerging issue

22 June 2006

Career development, not guidance, emerging issue for young people

Career management and development, rather than traditional career guidance, are emerging as important factors in supporting young people to think about, and progress, their professional and personal futures.

These findings are contained in Young people producing careers and identities, the first report from NZCER’s Pathways and prospects research that investigates career-related experiences and perspectives of young people after they have left school.

“Guidance has tended to come from models of skill-matching and vocational aptitudes, whereas career development addresses the roles of the learner and worker throughout life. Young people are changing how they make decisions about their careers and working life, and they do experience indecision or ‘changes of heart’, even after making apparently secure, or appropriate, career choices,” says NZCER Senior Researcher Dr Karen Vaughan, the project leader.

“During the research we found young people’s stories of transition highlighted that:

- careers decision making is not a single decision at a single point in time; - different levels of commitment to any pathway option may not be the same as commitment to a specific career; and - similar career orientations may be based on quite different, but equally valid, reasoning.

“Policy makers, and school and tertiary staff need to understand that tracking young people and their activities at face-value is not enough to understand the meaning that young people make of those activities, and the roles that different pathways play in their lives. Young people are challenging some commonly held assumptions about what their motivations and goals are, or should be.”

Dr Vaughan says the idea of life-long learning means workplaces will increasingly be seen as opportunities for people to develop careers rather than just ‘do a job’.

“A ‘career’ has a very different meaning than in the past, as it is now rare for people to have a ‘job for life’. Young people are now focused on a career as a process rather than a set structure, and are thinking in terms of developing and managing ‘self’ as well as skills. The research shows that we need to reframe careers support away from advice that is tied to existing and fixed skills and aptitudes, and towards skills for developing and managing careers – like the Internet 20 years ago, the emergence of some of these careers may still be years away.”

“The changes in the ways young people are now looking at their skills, careers and futures have significant implications for groups who support them - teachers, parents, and policy makers. In order to be better aligned with young people’s actual priorities and needs, these groups need to shift their thinking away from a simple ‘transition-to-labour market’ model to something that takes account of identity production and ‘careers as processes’.

The research is following 114 young people who left school during, or at the end of, 2003 and had initially chosen one of six broad areas of further study including modern apprenticeships, the army, and a range of tertiary education programmes. The young people were individually interviewed in early 2004, and again in 2005, and asked to describe and reflect on choices and choice-making processes, work/life balance, and their hopes and fears for the future.

* * * * *

About the project

Young people producing careers and identities is the first major report from the four-year longitudinal Pathways and Prospects research which investigates pathways and career-related experiences and perspectives of young people after they have left school.

It investigates how young people make decisions about their careers and working life, including any part that indecision or “changes of heart” might play. It also raises issues about the framework used in thinking about how to support young people in transition.

The research focuses on three main questions:

- how do young people describe what they are doing and what it means in their lives? - how do they see themselves in relation to their career and personal pathways? - what can we learn, and how can we advance, both policies and practices?

The first two rounds of fieldwork comprised interviews with the young people in early 2004 (shortly after leaving school), and again approximately a year later. The next round of fieldwork is to be carried out later in 2006 and in late 2007, with the next report due in 2007. The research was carried out by the New Zealand Council for Educational Research as part of its Purchase Agreement with the Ministry of Education.


The New Zealand Council for Educational Research is an independent, educational research organisation which provides educators, students, parents, policy makers, and the public with innovative and independent research, analysis, and advice.

Established in 1934 through grants from the Carnegie Corporation, it became a statutory body in 1945 and now operates under the NZCER Act 1972 (and amendments). It is not formally attached to any government department, university, or other educational organisation.

For more information, please visit our website:


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