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Making decisions can be hard – and especially when they can have significant consequences.

Across the OECD, as young people stay in education longer than ever before, they need to make more and more decisions about what and where to study.

At the same time, the world of work is radically changing and young people can expect to change jobs and even fields several times in their lives.

Young people are making more decisions in more difficult circumstances and, as a consequence, need better career management skills, and more career guidance than in the past.

The evidence is clear: career decisions, about what and where to study, make a difference. They are gateways to continuing learning and to progression into careers of choice.

Top 10 career expectations of 15-year-olds

Percentage of students who expect to work in the different occupational categories, among students who responded*

The impact of career guidance

The OECD, with the support of Skills Development Scotland, has just published a paper by Pauline Musset that looks at career guidance, what impact it has on young people and how it can be best delivered.

New PISA data, based on responses from more than half a million teenagers around the world, show that most 15-year-olds already have career plans: only 15% of them have not decided what they want to do. But the data reveal that today’s teenagers aren’t very imaginative when it comes to their expected working life. A third of them cite one of just ten jobs.

More importantly, PISA data show that the ways in which young people think about jobs and careers are highly shaped by social background. Disadvantaged students are significantly less likely to want to work as professionals than their more advantaged peers – even after statistical controls are put in place for academic abilities.

A similar pattern is found when we look at disadvantaged students and if they expect to go to university.  Gender and an immigrant background also shape students’ expectations, with similar results. This is a waste of potential.

Improving educational, economic and social outcomes

Career guidance can help. The paper reviews the empirical evidence available, and finds that guidance, when done well, can improve educational, economic and social outcomes.

In many ways, Scotland has many good practices in the field of career advice and counselling. Research shows that independent career advisers, through effective career guidance that utilises a range of models, tools and techniques, can help students better understand their interests and preferences and guidance becomes a learning experience where students learn the skills to enable them to make informed decisions.

This is exactly what career guidance professionals do in Scotland where it is recognised that ‘career guidance is a distinct, defined and specialist profession which demands a unique set of core skills’.

Intelligence, awareness and understanding

Career practitioners are equipped with the most recent available labour market intelligence. They are aware of the different education and training options, the routes and pathways between them and into jobs and have defined set of career management skills identified. Effective career guidance broadens the career interests of young people, ensuring that they have a good understanding, for example, of apprenticeships and other vocational pathways.

Early and varied exposure to the world of work, through talks about jobs and career fairs, is an excellent and essential complement to career advice and counselling. Research shows that there is particular value in giving students the chance to find out for themselves what it is like to work in different jobs and to follow different learning pathways.

Schools can organise careers fairs, for example, in which they invite professionals from different sectors. Research shows that teenage participation in career talks is associated with higher earnings ten years one, especially when young people at the time found talks to be useful.

Career guidance has an important role to play in ensuring that young people are properly aware of the breadth of opportunities presented by the labour market, but it also can play an essential role in challenging patterns of social reproduction. 

Find out more

To learn more about the OECD’s work on apprenticeship, vocational education and training, and adult learning, go to  or follow the team on Twitter at @AnthonyMannOECD.

Reference: Musset, P. and L. Mýtna Kureková (2018), “Working it out: Career guidance and employer engagement”, OECD Education Working Papers, No. 175, OECD Publishing, Paris,

*Notes: Approximately 540 000 students completed the PISA test in 2015, representing about 29 million 15-year-olds in the schools of the 72 participating countries and economies.

Category “medical doctors” formed by combining medical doctor, specialist medical practitioner and generalist medical practitioner. “Teaching professionals” category created by combining all International Standard Classification of Occupations (ISCO) 23. “Police officers, detectives and inspectors” created by combining ISCO categories 5412, 3355, 3411.

Source: OECD, PISA 2015 Database,

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