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Moments of choice

The Behavioural Insights Team was commissioned by the Careers and Enterprise Company to talk to young people about their future careers and aspirations, the resources they draw upon to make these decisions and the context in which decisions occur.


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BIT undertook fieldwork with young people, teachers and careers guidance professionals. We sought to build an understanding of young people’s knowledge with respect to careers, and to understand the career decision journey navigated by young people. In addition, we explored young people’s knowledge of career options more broadly and the context of their decisions. From this, we have several key findings:

  • Career information on the internet is dispersed across multiple sites, difficult to evaluate and difficult to contextualise. This contributes to young people switching off from using the full range of information available to make decisions about their future.
  • Young people have varying levels of understanding about their study and career options. However, the breadth of knowledge shown was generally low, with even open and engaged young people demonstrating low awareness of the jobs actually available in the economy.
  • However, young people say they have access to the information they want. This is despite the fact that they often demonstrated a lack of knowledge and research about their options, or even about their preferred career.
  • Further insight was available from what the young people implied, but did not explicitly say, they would want to know. Overall, the young people we spoke to seemed to have essentially based, or were seeking to base, the decision of their overarching career ambition on whether they had an image of themselves doing the job that they found appealing. This image often came from a variety of sources, including family and friends, personal exposure, and the media. What seemed to vary across young people is the number of different jobs they tried to imagine themselves doing and the number of inputs they sought in order to develop that image.
  • Young people consistently named the social media networks and Google as the most common websites they visited. However, they rarely reported using social media networks beyond socialising and entertainment, and were sceptical of receiving careers information, advice and guidance through Facebook in particular.

We also developed a stylised decision journey outlining the formative career experiences and key “moments” in young people’s career decision‑making:

  • Contextual factors sit in the background throughout young people’s lives, informing a sense of what is achievable and creating a “running hypothesis” of career or post-16 destinations on the young person’s radar.
  • Moments of inspiration can occur throughout young people’s lives, informing their longer-term aspiration through sparking or slowly introducing interest in a career.
  • Moments of choice are events where young people must make a choice with consequences for their future career. These moments are often the focus of research and policy, and reach beyond the standard GCSE and post-16 choices.

Date Published

August 25, 2016