By Maria Vitoratos, Careers Educator, Coach and Public Speaker
On life's journey, the likelihood of a linear career path is no longer the rule but more likely the exception. However, the rising youth unemployment and underemployment statistics globally indicate that career choices made as an adolescent may have longer, negative consequences on an individual's career identity, further impacting the quality of one's long-term life. In this article, I aim to illustrate that future career choices should not be perceived as a static experience with students making decisions out of context. This article will unwrap career identity, discuss how the education system influences career development, and highlight the social mobility opportunities that educational institutions can provide students. Finally, this article will explore how educational institutions must support students during their vulnerable adolescent years, which influences career identity and prepares them for positive future employability.
Career Identity Unwrapped
In a research study examining globalization's influences on education, career identity was described as complex and comprised of three interconnected identities: personal, professional, and social (Jackson, 2016). However, the complexities of each layer of one's identity deepen further. For example, the individual's identity can be viewed as a delicately woven imprint of one's self-concept, including the conscious and unconscious expectations one believes one must become as an adult. In addition, the professional identity equally weaves its own complexities, including the interactions and influences gained by external environments (Puzzo et al., 2023). Moreover, as cited by Puzzo et al. (2023), identity theory suggests that professional identities are the choices an individual will negotiate to have or become constrained by.
As I ponder on the importance of this article's topic, I continue to reflect on the efficiency of the current education system and its ability to prepare and educate students with the knowledge of how their career identities are taking shape. Circling back to the dire statistics showing an increasing concern for unemployment faced by university students globally, I remain concerned about the limited perspectives educators tend to have about educational provisions created to encourage well-rounded career decision-making amongst the student body. It is alarming that the understanding of career identities is not taught to students as part of their career education. I am equally concerned that secondary education systems keep students hyper-focused on attending university and attaining higher degrees without a defined context. However, putting my personal views aside, if one were to walk through the corridors of a secondary school at this time of the year, it would be evident that the pressure to go to university remains the dominant expectation. It is not uncommon for many young people to assume that a successful career equates to a high-ranking university acceptance. On the one hand, the conversation of going to university is not always heard using words. However, the understanding of one's expectation to get a degree is highlighted in many ways, from not providing differing pathway guidance or reminding students that good grades equate to successful university admissions and further equate to successful future careers. During my interviews with high school students, I often hear about their doubts and concerns about their ability to progress successfully into their professional lives. The students' doubts can be understood through the research findings by Ulrich et al. (2021) and Keshf and Khanum (2021), who proposed that social status and personal development were connected to one's professional explorations, but social climbing is not equitable for everyone. Therefore, students' doubts may be a culmination of fear that climbing within one's social hierarchy is complex and assumes a certain privilege that is not accessible by all, leading them to strive for higher degrees to increase their career success potential and social acceptance. Therefore, if students are not given equitable access at school, will career guidance provide enough students with enough support for them to gain essential foundations that will shape their career identity?
Educational institutions provide students with opportunities to gain knowledge and skills, which can provide them with opportunities to climb the social hierarchy in the future. In addition, the educational institution can enable students to gain social interactions with community members who may become role models that will validate a career identity that they would not have had access to outside of the school environment. One cannot delve into the debate about university admission pushing without raising the discussion that employers globally continue minimising the significance of academic achievement as better equipping young people for work. In addition, it is not a secret that a degree is no longer a key determinant to future employability in increasing industries. In addition, the unprecedented labour market demands further create ongoing debates about the importance of expensive post-secondary education for many students by employers and governments (Soon et al., 2019). Therefore, if secondary schools insist on focusing heavily on their students' submitting university applications, the institution should support students with more access to social interactions that will positively influence and shape their career identity to enhance their future career potential further.
This article aimed to raise the importance of recognizing that adolescence is a stage of exploration but also one of influence. Secondary education is an opportunity for enhanced access to social mobility opportunities, which can further increase a student's potential to gain a well-rounded and impactful career identity. Career decisions are not limited to choosing a degree and must include the reflexive process of understanding how making career choices as a teenager will be influenced by education, social practices, and unconscious limitations that students face daily. In my view, education is not limited to curriculum objectives and must take on board the longer-lasting impact that an education can provide for a student – climbing the social hierarchy for increased career opportunities.
Jackson, Liz. 2016. “Globalization and Education.” Oxford Research Encyclopedia of Education, October. https://doi.org/10.1093/acrefore/9780190264093.013.52.
Keshf, Z., & Khanum, S. (2021). Career guidance and counseling needs in a developing country’s context: a Qualitative study. SAGE Open, 11(3), 215824402110401. https://doi.org/10.1177/21582440211040119
Puzzo, Gabriele, Maha Yomn Sbaa, Salvatore Zappalà, and Luca Pietrantoni. 2023. “Job Expectations and Professional Role Identity in Gambian Journalists: The Mediation Role of Job Satisfaction.” Societies 13 (3): 71. https://doi.org/10.3390/soc13030071.
Soon, J. J., Lee, A. S. H., Lim, H. E., Idris, I., & Eng, W. (2019). Cubicles or corner offices? Effects of academic performance on university graduates’ employment likelihood and salary. Studies in Higher Education, 45(6), 1233–1248. https://doi.org/10.1080/03075079.2019.1590689
Ulrich, A., Helker, K., & Losekamm, K. (2021). “What Can I Be When I Grow Up?”—The Influence of Own and Others’ Career Expectations on Adolescents’ Perception of Stress in Their Career Orientation Phase. Sustainability, 13(2), 912. https://doi.org/10.3390/su13020912