Inspiration, happiness, and experience: Educating 13 – 17 year olds about their career choices

Over 57% of young people lack an understanding of their options post-secondary education. As an employer, you can help them discover their passion and explore the right career path for them.

Our Project Next Generation study interviewed 1,000 young people and their parents across the UK. It found that career guidance is often incredibly limited, with most students being handed a booklet and struggling to access any further details.

Students simply aren’t receiving the information, advice and insights they need to make informed decisions about their futures. As a result, today’s young people are leaning towards subjects they already enjoy or jobs they’re familiar with, rather than exploring the opportunities available.

Six themes influencing young people’s career choices

So, how can we give students the inspiration to look outside of these immediate influences? Our research shows that there are six key themes that factor into young people’s career choices:

1. Inspiration and discovery
Young people are making decisions about their future without accessing all the knowledge available. 

2. Feelings and happiness
While young people feel confident and optimistic about their futures, they need to balance it with living in the moment.

3. Experience
The experiences that young people have are shaping their future choices. This can be divided into direct experience (e.g. placements or work experience), indirect experience (e.g. learning from others) and past experiences (e.g. parental influence)

4. Confidence in decision making
Young people want to be confident that what they’ve chosen to do and the knowledge they’re gaining is going to get them to where they want to be.

5. Independence and empowerment 
Young people need to feel empowered to take responsibility for their lives. Pressure from parents and financial barriers can affect young people’s sense of independence.

6. A sense of control
The more prepared young people are, the more positive they feel about their future. Naturally, young people are concerned about things they don’t have control over, such as the job market. But there are ways to help them prepare, discover new choices and encourage them to feel in control.


Read our Project Next Generation study of 13 – 17 year olds and get exclusive insights into how young people are shaping their futures. 

Communicating with young people in a noisy world

Educating young people about their career options is vital for employers looking to engage and nurture the next generation of talent. At UCAS, we work with employers to share their brand stories, engage young people with opportunities and find the right talent to meet their business needs.

In a recent workshop, we invited well-known brands from the aviation, banking, energy, manufacturing, insurance and entertainment sectors to share how they’re cutting through the noise and connecting with young students.

1. Provide role models they can identify with
Videos are easy and inexpensive to film, and help brands to achieve cut-through on social media. The head of early careers at a well-known financial company has been recording videos of current trainees, so that potential future talent can see employees that they can identify with.

In the videos, trainees talk about their backgrounds, the subjects they studied at school, what they liked and how they’ve found going into the world of work. These help to provide students with indirect experience, showing how their own skills and interests could translate into a similar role.

2. Breakdown stereotypes about your industry…
A global energy business with an ageing workforce is eager to attract new talent. It’s working on changing perceptions of the industry’s use of fossil fuels and instead focusing on sustainable, renewable energy – an area that a lot of students care about. 

They’re also promoting the wider benefits of roles, including the chance to develop new skills, work on exciting projects and travel the world. 

Our project next generation report shows us that employers should think about contacting  their future talent pool much earlier. Whilst businesses typically start conversations when people are 17 or 18 years old, building connections earlier will allow them to inspire young people before perceptions are formed.

3. …but don’t sugarcoat a role
The caveat of highlighting the positives is that comms still need to convey the reality of that career. Some brands we spoke to have struggled with retaining their younger workforce, partly because marketing comms and imagery didn’t accurately reflect what the role involved.

Returning to the six themes that affect young people’s career choices, brands need to strike the balance between promoting careers and ensuring students have enough information to be confident in their decision making.

As one webinar attendee put it, be clear about what life is really like in your workplace and try to help them understand how it will differ from placements or internships.

4. Use webinars to share authentic insights
One leading brand in the aviation industry started using webinars during Covid. They were so successful that they’ve continued them each month, and regularly draw around 200 listeners.

The secret sauce is showing the good and the bad of workdays. The webinars aim to be completely open so that young people watching can ask questions about the application process, receive honest answers and learn what it’s really like to work there.

As they shared on our webinar, any job can look great with PR spin. Being honest and realistic helps both parties: young people can make informed choices about their careers and brands ensure that they’re bringing in people who are likely to stay.

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