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Children’s early career choices

I recently had the pleasure of speaking with Hamish Johnston from the Physics World podcast about how we can encourage children to consider careers in science, technology, engineering and maths (STEM). During the interview, Hamish asked me whether there was research evidence to show that children were making career choices as young as eight. Those of you that know about NUSTEM will know that this is one of the areas that we have been researching for the past few years. I thought it would be helpful to outline the two different ways that we’ve used to look at the career choices of children in primary school.

Zone of Acceptable Alternatives

The first method we have used is designed to explore what is the range of careers that children would consider doing in the future. This work is built on a theory proposed by Linda Gottfredson
called ‘Circumscription and compromise’ which describes how from a very young age children will limit their possible career choices based on the societal norms and expectations that they see
around them. The diagram below (from Gutman and Akerman (2008) and building on Gottfredson’s work) shows how children’s developmental progress gradually circumscribes the careers that they will consider from even before they start school, and then, once they are in the school system and start to understand some of the requirements of different jobs, they compromise their choices based on attainment and expectations. This leaves the children and young people with a Zone of Acceptable Alternatives: careers that they would be interested in doing, or at least, willing to do.

Description of development of career choices for children

Children’s development of career ideas from Gutman and Akerman, 2008.

 

To measure young children’s Zone of Acceptable Alternatives, we developed a research game called STEMKAT (STEM Knowledge and Aspirations Tool).  We gave children 30 different job cards and asked them to short the jobs into two piles: those they knew about, and those they didn’t know about.  This gave us a simple measure of how many different jobs each child knew about.  The jobs were chosen to be a broad range with some that children should definitely know about (e.g. teacher, doctor) and some that they might not have come across (e.g. entrepreneur, engineer).  They were also chosen to have a range of qualification requirements and status.

Once each child had their collection of jobs that they knew about, we asked them to re-sort the cards.  This time we asked them to put them into piles of ‘jobs I’d like to do’, ‘jobs I wouldn’t like to do’, and ‘not sure’.  By looking at the ‘jobs I’d like to do’ and ‘not sure’ cards we have a measure of the children’s zone of acceptable alternatives.

What we found:

  • Children in year 3 (age 8) knew about fewer jobs than children in year 5 (age 11)
  • Children in year 5 had smaller zones of acceptable alternatives i.e. they said that they wanted to do fewer of the jobs.
  • Job choices were strongly gendered, even in year 3. Of the STEM jobs on the list, boys tended to prefer jobs in the physical sciences, and girls tended to prefer jobs in the biological sciences.

You can read more about the detailed findings in our open access paper, including the positive effect that the work of NUSTEM in their schools has on children’s zone of acceptable alternatives.

Possible Selves

The second method that we have used to explore children’s career ideas uses a more straightforward method. This time we simply asked children to write down three jobs they would like to do when they are older, and why. This allows us to explore in more detail the range of specific jobs children are considering and how they see their future ‘possible selves’. This method draws on a theory developed by Hazel Markus and Paula Nurius (1986) who say that “possible selves represent individuals’ ideas of what they might become, what they would like to become, and what they are afraid of becoming, and thus provide a conceptual link between cognition and motivation.”

Many studies that look at what children would like to do tend to ask about only one possible self or future job (e.g. Drawing the Future, OECD The Future at Five). However, at NUSTEM we felt that it was important to look at the range of possible selves that children could envisage for themselves which is why we asked them to name three jobs they would like to do.

What we found:

  • Career aspirations were generally limited to a small range of options: although there were 81 different types of role mentioned, the top 20 jobs named account for 75% of those roles.
  • Career aspirations are strongly gendered, although there are some shared aspirations: teacher, you-tuber, police officer, and sport person.
  • We can also classify girls aspirations as being more realistic or achievable than boys. The job-market for professional footballers and you-tubers is after all, extremely small, and so the likelihood that a child will achieve success in those fields in also small.
  • Overall boys named a broader range of STEM aspirations than girls (28 vs 17), but that was still a small percentage of the jobs named.

Table showing the top 10 career choices for children

You can read more about this research in our paper presented at an IEEE conference in 2020.

Using these research methods in schools

Our second method is a very simple way of looking at the range of jobs individuals, and classes, are considering. If you are thinking about how to broaden the range of aspirations of your classes, then this would provide a quick way to track changes in aspirations over time. At the beginning of the year (or planned activity) ask the children to write down what they want to do (and why), and then at the end of the year you can ask them to repeat this. Looking at the range of jobs in the class will give a simple measure of the zone of acceptable alternatives, and looking at changes in individual children’s choices will see if there has been a broadening of an individual’s possible selves.

A note of caution: children will have developed their career ideas over a long time, and so short-term interventions may not cause an observable change in their choices. However, NUSTEM work with primary schools has shown that over the long term, sustained career activity can broaden the range of acceptable alternatives that children have.

If you’d like to talk to a member of NUSTEM about using the research methods in your school or college, then please email us nustem@northumbria.ac.uk

 

References:

Linda Gottfredson (1981) “Circumscription and compromise: A developmental theory of occupational aspirations”. Journal of Counselling psychology, 28(6) 545

Leslie Morrison Gutman, Rodie Akerman (2008) “Determinants of Aspirations”,  Research Report 27, Centre for Research on the Wider Benefits of Learning (IoE)

Hazel Markus, Paula Nurius (1986) “Possible Selves” American Psychologist, September 1986, pp 954-969

 

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Careers in Initial Teacher Education

Careers in Initial Teacher Education (CITE)

This page is now archived. Please see the main CITE project page for more details, updated links, and the evaluation report.

The Careers in Initial Teacher Education (CITE) Project was a collaborative project between NUSTEM and the North East Local Enterprise Partnership (NELEP) funded by the Careers and Enterprise Company.  The project ran during the 2019/20 academic year.

The project began working with ITT students who were undergoing placements in primary schools taking part in the NELEP Primary Benchmarks Pilot.  Once schools closed due to COVID, the project was moved online, and the training activities were opened out to teachers as well as students.

The online resources for the project are available on the NE Ambition Website

Following completion of the project, NUSTEM is working with schools and teachers to use the training materials to embed careers-related learning in primary schools.


For more information please contact nustem@northumbria.ac.uk

Careers in Space

In the UK, the space sector is growing at an impressive rate.  There are far more jobs than just ‘astronaut’ – but that’s often the only thing that people can think of when we ask them to name some careers involving space.

In 2014, according to the UK Space Agency, there were 34,000 people in the UK who were working in the UK Space Industry – and they’re not all living on the International Space Station!  As well as that, the UK Space Industry supports 72,000 jobs in other sectors.

Here at NUSTEM we have found examples space-related careers.

This Space Careers STEM Session can be used as part of an assembly or lesson about future careers.

We’ve also produced a Space Careers Home Learning worksheet to follow the assembly / lesson.

Teachers notes can be found Teacher Notes and Guidance.

 

We hope these resources are of value to you. Please do let us know how you have made use of them.

 

Careers Pages

Careers in the Curriculum CPD

Careers in the Curriculum: resources for subject teachers

Including careers contexts in your teaching will open up different possible career options for your students AND help them deal with questions where there is an unusual context.

This page is a brief outline of a CPD session that NUSTEM developed as part of the NECOP project here in the North East. It provides some useful links and ideas for subject teachers who are looking to include careers in their classroom.

Career guidance in England


Schools statuatory duty

The government published its careers strategy in December 2017 which includes adults as well as young people.  However, as a result of the strategy, schools have a number of updated statutory duties related to careers.

Important points:

  • Schools should secure independant careers guidance for all years 8 – 13 pupils.
  • By September 2018 all schools and colleges should have a named career leader, and publish details of their careers programme.
  • By end 2020 every school should  offer every young person seven
    encounters with employers – at least one each year from year 7 to year 13. Some of these encounters should be with STEM employers.

Online articles

We have written more about Careers in the Curriculum for Education in Chemistry (but applicable to all science subjects).

Including Careers in the Curriculum (Sept 2018)

How to tackle Careers Guidance (Nov 2018)

Why should you care about Careers? (Nov 2018)

It’s time to talk careers (Feb 2019)

Gatsby Career Benchmarks

The Gatsby Career Benchmarks are a set of 8 characteristics of good careers programmes.  Using the Benchmarks schools can audit and plan their careers programmes so that they are providing good careers information, advice and guidance to their pupils.

The key benchmark for subject teachers is Benchmark 4: Linking curriculum learning to careers.

All teachers should link curriculum learning with careers. STEM subject teachers should highlight the relevance of STEM subjects for a wide range of future career paths.
By the age of 14, every pupil should have had the opportunity to learn how the different STEM subjects help people to gain entry to, and be more effective workers within, a wide range of careers.

More information

Government careers strategy (pdf)

Careers guidance and access for education and training providers. (pdf)

Good Careers Guidance report (pdf)

Good Career Guidance website gives more details about the benchmarks, including some of the findings from the North East pilot.

The Careers and Enterprise Company was set up to support schools with careers. They have published an implementation guide to help schools with the careers strategy.

Planning for careers in your classroom

As a department you should liaise with the careers lead in your school or college. They will have a lot of information already that you can use, or will be able to work with you to include careers in your classroom.

Spend time planning careers links into your schemes of lessons. For each topic or theme, identify one career link and write it into your lesson plan (or equivalent).  Work with colleagues to share the load.

If you try to put links in ‘on the fly’ you’re likely to fall back on unconscious biases or stereotyped examples.

  • Tap into the expertise of parents and families. Use homework activities to (sensitively) find out who does what:
    • What links to topics do your students’ families already have?
    • Think hobbies as well as jobs.
  • Use your alumni. Keep links with them so that you can share what students from your school are doing.
  • Make contact with your local Enterprise Adviser Network or STEM ambassador hub. These organisations can link you to professionals who could come and talk with the department about where topics link into their work, or how the skills that they developed studying your subject has helped them in their career.

Useful Career Links

There are many sources of career information online that teachers can make use of. Here are some that we find useful:

  • NUSTEM Careers Tool.  An online database of over 100 different STEM jobs sorted by National Curriculum Science topic. Makes it easy to include jobs into your lessons.
  • NUSTEM careers resources including worksheets linked to North East companies.
  • National Careers Service Job profiles. An A-Z list of different career options.
  • STEM Learning eLibrary (was the National STEM centre eLibrary). Searchable repository of STEM related resources.  You can search it to find career resources linked to specific topics or subjects. (Free registration required)
  • NHS Careers website. Invaluable for students who ‘want to be a doctor’ but who, due to the competitive nature of that profession, would do better thinking about other options.