The lack of institutional careers advice and guidance today leaves young people floundering in rough seas without a compass. Parents approach me for coaching help because of the confusion of their offspring. Helping them decide on a firm career direction is often a well-intentioned parent’s starting point and that can feel like undue pressure for a teenager.

Yet, career paths are more fragmented, diffuse and unclear than in the previous generation. It means placing greater emphasis on exploring. Deciding on a career direction at 16, 18 or 21 is merely a temporary certainty until the next leap. How can young people build confidence by making more informed leaps in their career direction?

A recent CIPD policy report, Alternative Pathways into the Labour Market, points out that:

  • Needing a degree to get a job and needing one to get the job done are very different (hence over-qualified and over-skilled graduates in some occupations).
  • The authors can find no evidence to support the contention that university education reduces the training time needed when people have entered the job. Employers can help by creating higher-skill jobs, and development and progression pathways internally.
  • In an ACCA survey in 2016, 61% of 16-18-olds think employers prefer graduates and 65% saying their parents preferred them to go to university.
  • The existing quality of vocational education and training needs improving. The Government’s target is for 3 million apprenticeships by 2020 and is introducing a Levy on employers of a certain size. The CIPD’s concern is about quantity at the expense of quality.

So you can go to university, get a degree to get you through a door, but it can be a minefield at entry-level to really maximise the gains. Or you can find a quality apprenticeship at the appropriate level. Or you can get a low-level job, start your own business, go freelance, volunteer, travel etc. All the options have implications for funding a sustainable living.

Testament of Youth

It’s important to hear the voice of young people in this. Here’s how it feels to one 21-year-old as they articulate frustration at a narrow mindset in the system and how they experience it:

Throughout the entirety of school you are not accredited for creativity, your own identity or any form of your own ideas. You are accredited for a mark on a paper or regurgitated pieces of information. They spend so much time drilling into you how you should go to university and get a good education. For what? The majority of people have no idea what they’re doing as not enough time has been spent focussing on people as individuals and too much time on what we’re ‘supposed’ to be doing. It is not ‘unrealistic’ or ‘unachievable’ to have different goals to everyone else. Isn’t it better to dream for something than be stuck in a job that you hate for the rest of your life?

Career Direction Signposts

So where can young people and their parents turn? Here are three ideas:

  1. Research suggests that employer contact is the most useful source of career advice through visits to workplaces and work experience. Immerse yourself, test and explore.
  2. Commit yourself to taking responsibility and control for your future by showing your Young Professional credentials. Youth Employment UK gives you access to a range of resources to help develop you for the world of work. Gain a better understanding of what employers look for in an ideal candidate. Learn how to clearly demonstrate your professional development.
  3. The CIPD rightly points to interactive websites like Plotr providing a great basis for the delivery of exciting, up-to-date careers advice to young people. Coaching and mentoring support maximises the benefits. Empower yourself.

You will have several jobs, careers, and work identities in your life. The one you start with won’t be forever. You never stop developing and creating options for your career direction when you reframe education to lifelong learning. Work identity shifts, career direction is not a straight line.

Get clarity by investing in understanding yourself and others, build confidence by doing something that you enjoy or interests you, make a decision and act on it – and repeat when the time is right for you. That’s a path for a more informed leap whatever your stage in life.