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VET, vocational guidance and career choice

Our research confirmed that many vocational students’ aspirations are lowered through their rejection by or drop-out from higher status courses, and through subsequent formal and informal guidance interventions. Successful participation in VET resulted in students re-interpreting the choices imposed on them by others as positive choices made by themselves.

There are particular problems for many young women, who are disadvantaged in the labour market by gender stereotyping in work experience and vocational guidance. The Equal Opportunities Commission (EOC, 2005) calls for more proactive careers education and guidance for all young people, to promote access to non-traditional occupations. Our research confirms that girls and some boys need opportunities to understand why they often desire the stereotypical destinies they pursue, to ask critical questions about what those destinies offer and demand and to ask why their education contributes so often to the reproduction of social inequality.

Policy Implications

This research points to five policy implications for VET provision from 14 to 19.

¾ There is a danger of the VET system being asked to achieve too many objectives. Three common purposes are specific job-related preparation, a second chance for those not doing well in academic subjects and a broadening of general education for any who want it. These are not completely compatible with each other. Different needs require different types of provision.

¾ The success or failure of VET provision is linked to the relationship between that provision and higher status academic courses. If the academic and vocational are kept apart, the lower status of the vocational route will be reinforced.

¾ Any VET provision is strongly constrained by the attitudes, values and practices of employers. VET courses that develop strong employer links are relatively powerless to challenge those values and practices, even when there are important reasons for doing so. Courses without such close links are much less likely to provide effective progression routes into employment.

¾ Especially within the 14 -19 age group, VET provision should recognise and support normal patterns of career uncertainty and progressive changes in career intentions. This will require greater flexibility in curriculum and assessment provision, support for course changes and some students dropping out partway through, and the provision of professional non-partisan career guidance to all students who could benefit from it.

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