In 2011 iCeGS at the University of Derby published a paper (for a North American audience) which summarised the research evidence pointing to the importance of CEIAG.
The authors (Tristram Hooley, John Marriott and James P. Sampson, Jr) focused on the positive impact of careers education and guidance on retention, achievement and successful transition.
Professionals working in the field of career development have an intuitive grasp of the value of their work, based on experience and common sense, but at a time when the profession is under direct attack from blinkered politicians it is very helpful to be able to refer to findings like these.
Bridgeland et al., (2006) surveyed individuals who had dropped out in order to explore their reasons for leaving school early and investigate what they felt would have increased their engagement. Eighty-one percent of respondents felt that if schools had provided more opportunities for real-world and work-related learning it would have improved their chances of graduating from high school.
This finding suggests that career development has an important role to play in engaging young people in their education and retaining them within the school system. This message has recently been picked up by the Pathways to Prosperity report (Harvard, 2011) which argues that a major reason why students drop out of high school is that they can’t see a “clear, transparent connection between their program of study and tangible opportunities in the labour market.”
The sense that students fail to achieve their potential because they are unable to find relevance between their current learning activities and their aspirations is supported by Kenny et al., (2006), which found that a greater engagement with career planning was positively correlated with school engagement.
Another way to encourage retention and support academic achievement, particularly with vulnerable groups, is by using career development as a focal point around which multi-professional teams can work (school counsellors, counselling psychologists, other educators, and mental health professionals). Howard & Solberg (2006) highlight that school counsellors have the expertise to address the motivational and psychological challenges that accompany students’ academic difficulties and decision to drop out.
They demonstrate this ability by exploring the Achieving Success Identity Pathways (ASIP) program which supports students in developing effective school to work transitions through confidence building, stress management, building relationships with peers and employers and establishing academic and career goals (Solberg et al., 2002; Howard & Solberg, 2006).
They highlight that evaluations of the ASIP program demonstrate that the program contributes to improvement in academic performance (grades, credits earned and classes passed) and school behaviour (attendance, number of suspensions and severity of suspensions) (Solberg et al., 2001).
A link between career development and school retention was reported by Plank, DeLuca and Estacion (2005). This study was based on data from a nationally representative longitudinal survey. They interviewed participants in this survey who had experienced a period of dropping out during their education. The report concluded that there was a reduced risk of dropping out for those individuals who had experienced career development in combination with core academic learning, particularly where this combination was provided for younger school students.
However, they also found that an overreliance on career development programs at the expense of academic programs did not produce an improvement in retention.
Technologically-supported career development has also been found to play an important role in encouraging greater retention. Online provision is flexible and can be offered to learners who have begun to disengage with school either remotely or as part of a targeted re-engagement strategy within the school.
As previously argued, students who are able to place their attendance at school within a long-term career narrative are more likely to remain engaged, and technologically-supported tools can provide cost-effective and learner-centred ways of doing this. Gore et al., (2006) argue that these tools allow learners to consider their career options in a ‘natural context’ which they can fit around their lives (Wonacott, 2002; Offer, 2004; UKCES, 2010).
Technology also offers the ability to assess students (Offer, 2004; Gore et al., 2006) and identify those who are experiencing career indecision, in order to provide more support to prevent disengagement that could lead to dropping out. Osborn and Reardon (2006) found that computer-assisted career guidance systems (CACGS) could be used as a key component of a broader intervention designed to support school engagement, through research with a group of middle school students who were at risk of dropping out. The research found that at the end of the course the students had learned more about their interests, occupations, post-secondary opportunities and decision-making approach.
They also found that the CACGS was particularly beneficial if supported by a counsellor. This reiterates Whiston et al’s (2003) finding that CACGS are most effective if they exist in a broader career development context. In a study of 33 high school sophomores at risk of dropping out, Bleier (2006) found that both of the two different CACGS used within the study had a statistically significant impact on attainment and retention within the school.
The evidence therefore suggests that career development programs have an important role to play in engaging students in their education and diminishing dropout rates. However, career development is not a magic bullet that can be administered at the last moment to “save” those at risk of dropping out. Rather, career development works best when it is part of an integrated strategy to increase academic achievement and support students to gain an understanding of the world of work.
Furthermore, the evidence also suggests that career development is best started early so that by the time young people are facing choices about academic and vocational direction, they have a frame of reference within which to exercise these choices and the skills to follow them through.
There is a large body of research demonstrating that career development at school can have a positive impact on students’ academic achievement (Gysbers & Lapan, 2001; Brigman & Campbell, 2003; Dahir & Stone, 2003; Poynton et al., 2006; Gratama, 2007; Carey & Harrington, 2010).
While dated, Evans & Burck’s (1992) metaanalysis is a good place to begin examining this literature as it drew together 67 studies examining the relationship between career development and academic achievement. They were able to demonstrate a small positive effect on academic achievement and to conclude that there was even greater effect in relation to certain subjects (math and English) for those young people with average ability level and for those who experience career development at a younger age. In addition, they found that career development was more effective if the program was in its second year of operation with the same students.
A large-scale study surveying over 20,000 students in Missouri (Lapan, Gysbers & Sun, 1997; Lapan, Gysbers, & Petroski, 2001) found that students who had attended schools which had implemented the Missouri Comprehensive Guidance Program (MCGP) were more likely to report that the school was a positive environment, that they had achieved better academic results and that the school supported them to consider their futures.
The MCGP describes a state-level career development initiative which encourages schools to provide curriculum-based learning to support the development of student competencies around the areas of career planning, knowledge of self and others and educational and vocational development. In MCGP schools this curriculum runs from kindergarten to the 12th grade and is supported by a broader infrastructure of school counselling and other extracurricular support.
Finally, MCGP schools also ensure that there are sufficient management resources to link curricular and extracurricular elements of the program and to ensure that the program is managed as a whole. The findings of the Missouri studies suggest that where the MCGP was implemented, students were more likely to report that (a) they had earned higher grades, (b) their education was preparing them for their future, (c) their school made career and college information available to them, and (d) their school had a positive climate.
These positive effects were found after removing differences due to school enrolment size, socioeconomic status and percentage of minority students in attendance. The study found little or no impact due to gender, student ethnicity/racial status or socioeconomic level of the student’s family.
There have been other studies based around the comprehensive guidance program model in Utah (Nelson, Gardiner & Fox, 1998; Nelson et al., 2007; Carey & Harrington, 2010), Washington State (Sink & Stroh, 2003; Sink et al., 2008) and Chicago (Lapan & Harrington, n.d.).
The most recent Utah study is based on data from 280 schools providing a strong indication that school counselling programs were making a measurable impact on student achievement.
Carey and Harrington (2010) also found that it was possible to distinguish the impacts of well-integrated guidance programs from those that were less well integrated and also to observe the impact of different counsellor to student ratios.
The Washington studies also found that schools that had maintained a comprehensive guidance program for five or more years were able to show significantly higher academic achievement than schools that did not offer a comprehensive guidance program.
The studies in Missouri, Utah and Washington provide some of the strongest empirical evidence around the implementation of career development. However, their methodology has been critiqued by Brown and Trusty (2005) who argue that there is a need to view these findings as “preliminary”. In a robust rejoinder to this comment, Sink (2005) argues that while it is “virtually impossible to make airtight causal statements”, “causal inferences can still be tentatively offered”. In other words, these studies remain some of the best pieces of evidence that are available in this area. Sink finishes his rejoinder by arguing that the only way to increase the conclusiveness of the evidence around the issue of career development and career guidance is by amassing a range of varied studies rather than holding out for a single study which is able to identify and control for all possible confounding variables.
Technology-based career interventions have also demonstrated a positive impact on academic achievement (Bleier, 2006; Borghans & Golsteyn, 2008). For example, Dimmitt (2007) found that school students who used the world and life simulation The Real Game as part of their career development experienced statistically significant increases in academic tests.
Borghans and Golsteyn (2008) explain that career development, supported by CACGS, is part of a virtuous circle of lifelong learning. As people make positive educational choices (supported by career development), their likelihood of making future positive choices increases. Education and achievement beget each other and career development has the potential to help individuals to make positive educational moves. Furthermore, Borghans & Golsteyn (2008) also argue that “poor information about the future prospects of a chosen field of study also reduces the incentive to put effort in the study… students who have a less clear picture about their future study fewer hours per week.”
The evidence around academic achievement points in similar directions to the evidence around retention. Where guidance programs are started early in an individual’s school career, where they are holistic (comprised of both curricular and extracurricular elements), well-integrated into the school and supported by management, they appear to have a positive impact on students’ academic achievement.
Alongside these curriculum-embedded activities, career development also seeks to smooth transitions into the labour market, for example, by explaining recruitment processes, aiding decision making and brokering relationships between young people and potential employers.
Taken together this suggests that it may be possible for schools to have an influence over young people’s transitions into the labour market. While many young people are capable of making the transition from school to work without much support, a qualitative study by Blustein et al., (1997) suggests that young people are more satisfied with their jobs when the transition has been well supported. Blustein et al., (1997) interviewed 45 young men and women aged between 18 and 29. The analysis of their responses suggests that family, educators and career counsellors need to be active in supporting the school to work transition and in providing both practical and emotional support while in transition.
The findings of Blustein et al., (1997) were echoed by a recent Canadian study (Bell & O’Reilly, 2008) which sought to develop a framework for interventions to support successful school/work transitions. Their framework emphasizes the need to provide young people with a good understanding of both the labour market and the various ‘transition pathways’. The framework also emphasizes the importance of engaging stakeholders, including students, parents, teachers and employers, and creating opportunities for dialogue and information exchange. The study also stresses that career development programs need to be embedded in and connected to both the academic curriculum and other personal and social education activity in the school.
Meta-analyses by Baker and Taylor (1998) and Baker and Popowicz (1983) have analyzed some earlier studies in order to provide some quantification of the size of the impact that career development is having on young people’s transitions. Baker and Taylor (1998) looked at 12 studies and concluded that it was possible to demonstrate that career development interventions were having an impact on young people’s transitions.
Career development has also been found to support labour market transitions in studies such as Lapan, Aoyagi and Kayson’s (2007) three year longitudinal study. This study followed 87 adults as they transitioned from school to the labour market. It found that career development in high schools was significantly connected to more successful transitions into the adult roles of worker and learner and to greater satisfaction with one’s life. As with a number of previous studies discussed, they found that holistic programs which combined curricular and extracurricular activity and mobilized teachers, school counsellors and parents were most effective in supporting labour market transition.
Career development has also been found to increase the likelihood of college enrolment and college graduation (Metis, 1999; Maxwell & Rubin, 2001). Studies by Ogle (2001) and Lapan and Harrington (n.d.) suggest that school counsellors, in particular, have an impact on how students prepare, plan, search, apply for and transition to college.
There is also a considerable amount of research recently that focuses on the role of the CTE curriculum in supporting transition (Lekes et al., 2007) and leading to positive labour market outcomes (Dare, 2006; Kemple & Willner, 2008).
Work-based and work-related learning are also closely connected to career development and merit particular mention in the context of school to work transitions. Gemici et al., (2010) used data from the Educational Longitudinal Survey to examine the impact of work-based learning on at-risk students. Those students who had engaged in work-based learning were significantly more likely to orientate positively towards post-secondary education and work.
A small-scale qualitative study by Phillips et al., (2002) also argues that work-based learning has a major impact on school to work transition. Technology-mediated career development can also support transition by providing students with both windows and bridges to the world of work and further learning. Windows enable students to examine possible destinations and to develop strategies that will enable them to make an effective transition and acclimatize to the new environment. These might take the form of occupational information, video case studies or simulations (National Life Work Centre, 2008).
For example, Maxwell and Angehrn (2008) found that young people exhibited a significant measurable increase in their awareness of work-based social behaviours following the use of a computer game-based work simulation.
Bridges provide students with ways to form connections with the world which they are transitioning to and to build allies within it. These might include online mentoring and the use of social media.
As with the areas of retention and achievement, career development can be seen to have an impact on young people’s ability to transition from school to work. Transitions are clearly influenced by a very wide range of social, economic and educational factors; however, the evidence suggests that career development interventions can have an impact on young people’s ability to secure and keep work and their chance of securing income and personal satisfaction from that work.
Again, the most effective career development seems to be applied early and maintained throughout schooling and delivered in a holistic and multi-modal way. Furthermore, successful career development to support transitions typically makes use of a range of partners and stakeholders including teachers, employers and parents.
From ‘Fostering college and career readiness: How career development activities in schools impact on graduation rates and students’ life success’
“The International Centre for Guidance Studies is a specialist research centre with interests in career and career guidance. It undertakes diverse activity including the evaluation of learning or guidance programmes, comprehensive literature reviews, impact assessments and strategic projects that inform the development of national services. Much of iCeGS’ work is applied research to support the delivery and improvement of services. iCeGS also undertakes blue skies research that examines the theoretical and conceptual basis of career and career guidance.”