Youth transitions: creating pathways to success
Dr Deirdre Hughes and Dr Graeme Smith
Around the world, young people face considerable challenges. Even before the disruption of the Covid-19 crisis, policymakers were seeking to respond to rapid technological advances, climate change and – in some countries – an ageing population and workforce. While children and young people worldwide generally have high aspirations and ambitions for their futures, evidence shows that they often face problematic and protracted transitions into work. In this context, new pathways from school to employment are needed. In this paper, we review extensive evidence to provide guidance on how children and young people can be best prepared to succeed in their school-to-work transitions, both now and in the future.
In a period of accelerated change and challenge, individuals need both appropriate tools and the right mindset to find purposeful learning and work opportunities. While many children and young people are overwhelmingly positive about change, inequalities in life chances and living standards are widening, and transitions to work can be protracted, difficult, and frustrating. In such a context, developing young people’s capabilities and motivation to learn on a lifelong basis is a global moral imperative. However, at the same time, public spending on education favours children from the richest households, with the poorest 20% receiving less than 10% of public education resources. As a result, the most disadvantaged children and young people are less likely to receive the education and develop the skills they need to adapt and prosper in our changing world. We must therefore consider new pathways to successful school-to-work transitions. Our research sets out to do just that, providing key stakeholders with evidence-based guidance on the key elements of effective transitions – from career-related learning in primary schools to meeting the needs of young adults up to the age of 25.
Drawing on 105 reports, our research had led us to identify seven key principles to shape policy and practice:
- Start early: Career-related learning in primary schools should aim to inspire children and begin to connect their education with the world of work. Early interventions can help children to understand the relevance of their schooling to a future world of work, and crucially, can reduce stereotypes (for example, around gender), helping to broaden their horizons and widen their aspirations.
- Support teaching and learning: In many countries, teachers are key actors in young people’s career choices, but they are often not equipped with relevant training on school-to-work transitions. Professional development programmes for teachers have the potential to equip them with insights from the evidence base on these transitions, as well as providing guidance on personalised learning, gender-responsive and age-appropriate pedagogies, and skills frameworks.
- Embed careers in the school curriculum: It is clear that the way teenagers think about their futures in education and employment has a significant impact on their employment outcomes as adults. Embedding careers into their curriculum, and making the world of work seem real and relevant, is therefore critical. This may include ‘prevention’ measures, designed to keep young people engaged in learning opportunities and challenging their assumptions, ‘integration’ measures, such as career exploration activities, mentoring or work experience, and ‘recovery’ measures, designed to reconnect young people to learning that meets their individual needs.
- Encourage effective dialogue: Discussions about careers and transitions need to be learner-centred. This is not always the case. Learner-centred dialogue requires the promotion of good governance and accountability mechanisms in schools, colleges and VET, including community engagement, as well as the participation of parents, children and adolescents.
- Engage employers: Employer engagement – including enterprise activities, workshops, work experience, and guest speakers – can offer young people a new perspective on the value of education. By engaging with people who bring an authentic experience of the uses of subjects of study in the working world, schools can challenge assumptions developed by pupils, allowing them to draw richer, more informed connections between education and ultimate economic and wider success in adult life.
- Utilise technology and labour market information: In a changing world, up-to-date labour market information (LMI) is increasingly important. Technology and LMI tools can offer ‘spaces and places’ for learning and reflection in support of individual transitions into the working world, but they must be made accessible to less advantaged students.
- Use evidence to strengthen skills and create new pathways to success. To truly support youth transitions, there is a need for greater production and use of careers and transitions evidence worldwide, including invaluable lessons from low- and middle-income countries.
Following the Covid-19 crisis, there will also be additional challenges for young people, which governments and policymakers must consider to support their transitions into work, and to mitigate youth unemployment. To this end, our report concludes by recommending priorities for action. These include a public investment in infrastructure, with an emphasis on youth (for example, including a ‘youth guarantee’ for exposure to the world of work), private investment in local spaces for young people to develop their knowledge and skills, and third sector investment in community cohesion and youth engagement projects. We must also consider coordinated implementation of active labour market policies for unemployed young people, a reorientation of tax and benefits to meet the needs of children, young people and families, encouragement of part-time work among school pupils, improved access to vocational training, increased effective use of digital technologies, and consistent, impactful public communications – and efforts to listen to the voices of young people themselves.