ViewPoint: ‘It is Time We Start Listening to Teenagers on Careers’
February 28, 2019

Educators, employers, parents and the government must take note of teenagers’ views, writes Bev Jones, joint chief executive of the Career Colleges Trust.

New research published on 26th February 2019 suggests that nearly a third of teenagers in Britain are worried about “where their education is heading” and feel that the next few years may be a “waste of time” for them.

This is disappointing, particularly at a time when many industries are growing rapidly and new and exciting career opportunities are on offer for young people locally, nationally and internationally.

There is often talk about the skills gaps and the fact that young people are not prepared for the world of work – but is it any surprise when teens themselves feel that their education is focused primarily on league tables and academic grades?

In fact, 66 per cent of those aged 13-16 who were surveyed by the Career Colleges Trust agreed that this is the case, with only 13 per cent saying that the main focus of their education is on their future career. Certainly not their fault, then, that they are “not prepared for work”.

Alarming but not new

This perception among teens that academic achievement is the only thing that counts is alarming but nothing new. For many years, practical and vocational pathways have always been seen as less prestigious and for children who are “less bright”. Add these distorted attitudes to the government’s drive to improve standards in schools, and we are faced with a situation in which it has become all about exam results.

Of course, high standards in schools and colleges are crucial and some good work is being done to ensure that all young people get the quality of education they deserve. But why are we continuing to disregard the real end result of an educational journey – the career achieved?

The fact is that not all young people will achieve exam results that reflect their true talents or abilities. And when this happens, they will often feel they have failed and their confidence takes a huge knock. Yet in the right environment and with the right support, many of these children could go on to successfully achieve their career ambitions.

Career ambitions

Over half of the young people we surveyed said that their schools were neglecting to consider their individual career ambitions – choosing instead to focus on grades achieved. And a huge 60 per cent said that their subject choices were based on the ones they were likely to get the best grades in but didn’t actually enjoy.

This is the perfect recipe to ruin the love of learning and turn teenagers off education. Of course, no one will ever enjoy every subject, but to disregard young people’s interests and ambitions is a risky strategy. With mental health issues on the rise among teenagers, focusing solely on exams and grades only adds to the pressure. Putting a different focus on learning and creating a clearer line of sight to a career and the exciting future ahead of these teenagers would help improve motivation and achievement levels, surely?

It is time we start listening to teens themselves. When asked if the current education system is “fit for purpose” nearly two-thirds of those surveyed said that it either wasn’t or that they weren’t sure. A quarter felt that the curriculum and teaching styles are “outdated”.

Keeping up with technology

And this question of being “outdated” is also important to consider. With young people having grown up with technology – digital natives – they are, in general, light years ahead of teachers, parents and anyone else over the age of 30 in this respect. This becomes an issue as many education professionals struggle to keep up with technology and use it effectively in the classroom, causing young people to feel they are not being taught the up-to-date and relevant digital skills required for life after education.

With a sole focus on academic achievement, young people are clearly struggling to make decisions about their future. They are not getting the exposure to industry that they need to help them make these career choices and they are not being encouraged to decide where their real interests lie.

Widening skills gaps

This is not an assumption we are making about teenagers – this is actually how they are feeling about their education. Educators, employers, parents and the government must take note, particularly as we all worry about the skills gaps widening across so many industries.

Mindsets also need to change in relation to what success really is. We need to teach and encourage critical thinking and communication skills while nurturing ambition. We must make education more real and relevant for young people, supporting their career goals and ambitions and being clear that, although important, exam results alone will only get you so far.

Many decisions are taken that directly affect young people’s education – with little or no input from them. This research shows that it’s time we listened to our teenagers, supported them on the right educational pathway and focused on better preparing them for life after education.

Bev Jones is joint chief executive of the Career Colleges Trust

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