College or work? Gap year or victory lap? And how should a young person choose among the multitude of programs offered through universities, colleges or a combination of both?
Those are just some of the questions faced by today’s high school graduates.
In an era of tough competition for jobs, the rise of precarious employment and the disappearance of a linear path from school to work, teaching kids career and life planning is more important than ever.
But a new report from People for Education says Ontario students aren’t getting what they need from the province’s careers strategy, introduced over a three-year period beginning in 2013.
Principals surveyed by the research and advocacy group cited problems implementing the plan, a shortage of guidance counsellors and lack of teacher training to help students at all levels.
“The bottom line is it’s been hard for schools to implement this policy, which is a laudable policy, it’s something we need to be doing in our schools,” said Annie Kidder, executive director of People for Education. “We need to be thinking about the now multiple paths that our kids are going to end up being on as they grow up.”
“The evidence tells us now you’re probably going to have multiple jobs in multiple different areas and also multiple paths even through your education.”
So helping them understand themselves and their interests even as young students is key to making sure they have the tools to navigate a complex path.
The Ontario strategy includes such mandatory components as: portfolios for every student from kindergarten to Grade 12 to help them reflect on their interests, strengths, learning and later career possibilities; career and life-planning committees in every school; and professional development for teachers to help them integrate career and life planning into the classroom.
It is also linked to the existing 40 hours of mandatory community volunteering for high school students and the compulsory Grade 10 careers course.
The survey of 1,100 principals found:
- Mandatory career and life-planning committees were in place in only 15 per cent of elementary schools and 39 per cent of high schools. And of those, only 8 per cent of secondary schools included community members.
- Thirty-four per cent of elementary and 56 per cent of secondary schools reported that every student had a career/life-planning portfolio.
- Teacher training on career and life planning was available at fewer than one in four elementary schools and 40 per cent of high schools.
- While high school guidance counsellors are the primary staff members responsible for student portfolios and planning, 16 per cent of secondary schools don’t have a full-time guidance counsellor.
- The average ratio is one counsellor for every 380 students — in line with what provincial funding provides — but one in 10 schools struggles with a ratio of 600 students per teacher.
Principals said two years of education labour disputes interfered with the new strategy, but also blamed lack of technology support, workload issues, and a lack of overall understanding of the policy.
“While lots of them talked about how great the policy was, an equal number talked about how difficult it was to implement,” says Kidder.
She cited “initiative exhaustion” among teachers and administrators following a stream of new education strategies ranging from math to well-being to experiential learning, which can leave staff overwhelmed. And she called for better integration of the career and life lessons with all school subjects.
For Bruce Lawson of the Counselling Foundation of Canada, making the most of the provincial strategy is key. And he says despite the challenges addressed in the report, it is one of the best in the country.
By the time today’s elementary students graduate, at least one third of the occupations open to them will be jobs that don’t currently exist, says Lawson, president of the foundation, which promotes career planning and development. For kindergarten students, it amounts to more than half.
“Given how the world is changing at such a rapid pace, we really need to equip young people with the skills, competency and resilience to be able to navigate the 21st-century workplace.”
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