Schools need to start career planning in Grade 6: Report

Students should be able to switch between academic and vocational streams, which reduces drop-out rates
||Last Updated: 06/04/2009

It's back to class for students today and it's never too early to start thinking about career planning. Unfortunately, many schools aren't doing enough to help students prepare for their future careers, according to a new report.

The school-to-work transition study by the Canadian Policy Research Networks (CPRN), an Ottawa-based think-tank, found career planning in many schools often comes too late and doesn't do enough.

"The research shows that career development services in most provinces lack the needed scope and are out of sync," said Sharon Manson Singer, president of CPRN.

"Provincial and territorial governments are not doing enough to identify, sustain and spread effective practices. These services are critical, especially if young people are to have the chance to pursue the education and skills training opportunities they need to build successful careers."

Pathways for Youth to the Labour Market: A Synthesis Report

summarizes the findings of eight CPRN studies carried out over the past two years and makes several policy recommendations.

The report notes the traditional straight-line path from school to work has given way to a non-linear path that sees young people "zigzag" between schooling and work as they seek to find their way. Students are taking longer to complete their education and become established in the workforce.

A key finding is that career development programs and services can reduce drop-out rates, increase aspirations and achievement, help people find jobs that match their talents and interests and help employers meet skill needs. The best programs, according to the report, begin early (by Grade 6) and combine several elements:

•information about career opportunities and the learning paths needed to attain them;

•developing skills about how to analyze this information and deal with changes both in job prospects and in personal interests;

•co-op learning opportunities; and

•the engagement of parents and employers in students' career-planning activities.

The research also shows the importance of choice in the high school curriculum. Case studies of efforts to strengthen vocational options in high school indicate that such programs have had success in reducing the high school drop-out rate and increasing participation in post-secondary education. To avoid prematurely streaming students, building bridges between academic and vocational options is needed, so that students who start on one path are able to switch to another.

However, in most provinces, there has been limited co-ordination and unreliable funding of vocational curriculum, resulting in limited take up of these programs.

"The provinces and territories should make a more systematic effort to identify successful practices and share results across Canada," said Ron Saunders, CPRN vice-president of research and author of the report.

"They should provide the funding to sustain such practices locally and to facilitate their adoption across the province or territory."

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