Skip to main
28 June 2023

What drives young people’s career ambitions?

Hinks 210322 Sds Bishopbriggs Large2 57

Almost half of Scotland’s school leavers say a lack of confidence and a lack of work experience are key barriers to their future careers, according to a new research.

The study by Skills Development Scotland (SDS) focused on the career choices, influences and motivations of school leavers across Scotland.

Young people cite a lack of confidence as a barrier preventing them from making progress in their chosen career. This is a particular issue for disabled and care experienced young people.

Respondents also cited a lack of work experience as a barrier, which again was a particular issue for care experienced young people.

Sharon McIntyre, Head of Career Information, Advice and Guidance at SDS, said, "The immediate post-school transition is an important point in a young person’s life. Some young people have a clear idea of what they want to do but for some, it can be a time of uncertainty and worry. The good news is that SDS careers advisers can support all people whatever their age and stage.

"Young people in school can speak to their school careers adviser about their next steps but for those who have already left school, we have advisers working in SDS centres and community venues across Scotland who are on hand to support."

Sharon McIntyre, continued, "We know from the work carried out as part of the Career Review that work experience is a key part of learning that needs to be high quality, consistent, accessible and available to all young people.

"We need an education system that provides students with a range of experiences that enable them to explore the diverse options that suit their interests and inform their future choices.

"The plans to implement the recommendations of the career review demonstrate the commitment to ensure all students have access to the experiences and support to make informed choices now, and in the future."

The Young People’s Career Ambitions (YPCA) research was carried out in 2022, with international academic expert in careers, education and skills policy Dr Deirdre Hughes OBE contributing to the design.

All young people in Scotland who left school in 2020/2021 were sent a link to a questionnaire in October 2022. A total of 1,414 young people responded, with results weighted to ensure they were representative of the Scottish school leaver population.

Experiential work-related learning

Dedicated curriculum time for experiential work-related learning was one of ten recommendations to come out of the Career Review, the most comprehensive review of Scotland’s career services in a generation.

The review identified a need for experiential work-related learning to become part of the ‘fabric’ of curriculum design and delivery in primary, secondary, college and university. This would help young people to understand the practical value of what they are learning and how it can be applied in the world of work.

The YPCA research covered: 

  • Post-school transitions
  • Key career influencers
  • Views on CIAG services
  • Career Management Skills
  • Future aspirations
  • Perceived career barriers

Other key findings

  • Young people from the most deprived areas have more complex post-school transitions than those from the least deprived areas.
  • The people most likely to influence young people’s career decisions are Parent(s)/Carer(s). The factors most likely to influence young people are their interests/hobbies, the need to earn money, and the qualifications they achieved in school.
  • Young people felt supported and encouraged by the career services they received in school. This is particularly true for those from the most disadvantaged groups, who report a wide range of benefits.
  • Young people’s career aspirations are concentrated in a small number of job sectors. There are also clear demographic differences in the sectors that young people aspire to enter.