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‘I Don’t Know What I Want to do with my Life’

New research shows that young African-Caribbean people are making ill informed career decisions

Issued 22 September 2010

A study at the University of Leicester shows school leavers are experiencing a high level of dissatisfaction and regret following ‘misguided’ career decisions. The research suggests the problem is especially affecting young people from disadvantaged backgrounds.

The study, entitled ‘Surviving Post-16 Transitions: Youth Biographies’ was undertaken by Yvonne Foster as part her doctoral research in the Centre for Labour Market Studies at the University of Leicester.

Miss Foster gathered her evidence through a series of interviews with young people of African Caribbean origin living in London.

She said: “The study was not designed to be representative but to capture the experience of a particular group of young people. The study was conducted with 24 African-Caribbean young people. This sample size is adequate for a qualitative study.

“A large majority of the participants stated they had either received no career advice or advice they claimed was insufficient, impersonal or confusing.

“Many expressed regret at the decisions they had consequently made. It is clear that prior to leaving school young people are suffering from information poverty and, as a result, are making misguided decisions.”

Dr John Goodwin, Reader in Sociology in the Centre for Labour Market Studies, added: “"Yvonne has undertaken significant research on transitional biographies of young people of African Caribbean origin living in London. The study is both rich and detailed, offering clear insight into the ways in which these young people negotiate the transition from school to work despite a lack of clear and focused guidance. I have no doubt that this study will have interest for both academics and policy makers alike."

Miss Foster hopes that her research can contribute to a review of careers provision in urban schools, as a way of improving the access young people have to quality career advice and guidance.

NOTE TO NEWSDESK: FOR MORE INFORMATION, PLEASE CONTACT: Yvonne Foster – y.foster1@btinternet.com

Case studies

Case 1

“I don’t think young people are prepared for the change because it’s all of a sudden. Suddenly you hit your exams and you get told you have to go to college or you have to decide what you’re gonna do with your life, and for me in the situation, I didn’t know what I wanted to do with my life. I didn’t have a clue and there’s a lot of pressure on me to suceed in my GCSEs, find a college, find a course, make a career. There was a million and one things that I’d to do that I wasn’t ready for”.

This young lady received advice from her sisters and enrolled to do 3 A levels at her local FE college. She anticipates going onto university, if successful, but at the time of her interview was uncertain as to what she would study at university. Her two sister had already attended university and she hoped to follow in their footsteps. She expects to get further advice from them about what subject area to pursue at university. The important point about her decision is that it is not based on firm information about what were her best post-16 options.

Case 2

“I think it was expected of me to go to college and it was expected of me to go to university; so not to let yourself down, but not to let your family down as well, you continue on, whether you feel it’s the right thing for you or not. And may be sometimes being in full-time education for the sake of being in full-time education just isn’t the right thing to do.”

This individual has ended up studying for a degree in early childhood studies by going through a circuitous route. Namely, GNVQ in business studies, HNC and HND in early years education because she was unclear about how she should develop her career pathway post-16. She felt it was important to continue to study regardless of where it would lead. She anticipates entering either social work or teaching. She believes she is likely to have made different decisions, for example, perhaps pursued a different route into teaching had there been the opportunity to explore different post-16 options with a careers specialist.

Case 3

“Even though I had five years of secondary schooling at the end of it, I still didn’t know what I wanted to do. They just talked about the variety of colleges and the variety of courses that you can do. But that doesn’t really help if, in the first place, you ain’t got a clue about what’s right for you”.

Like many young people in this study, this individual pursued a number of avenues during the first 3 years of leaving school before settling into an apprenticeship, which he was doing at the time of his interview. Doing an apprenticeship was not planned but a fortiutous step which enabled him to pursue further qualifications whilst working. The particular apprenticeship was not of long term interest but it acted as a stepping stone into employment. He wished he had known about apprenticeships earlier.

Emma Howard

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