3. Pre-employment interventions

Adolescents aged 12 to 16 are still in school and hopefully will remain there for a few additional years. Nevertheless, getting them to think about their career interests can be potentially beneficial for a number of reasons. First, once they reach upper secondary school, they have the opportunity to specialise, meaning that it would be desirable if students had a general idea of the career paths that might interest them. Second, even when comparing students that have similar school or standardised test performance results in their mid-teens, students who have more ambitious career aspirations are more likely to fulfil these later in life (OECD, 2018[1]; Schoon, 2001[2]; Sikora and Saha, 2011[3]). Being able to name a job expected at age 30 and having those plans align with their educational plans are likewise associated with positive later employment outcomes (Covacevich et al., 2021[4]; Thomson and Hillmann, 2019[5]). Helping students set realistic yet ambitious goals can therefore have real-life impacts, in particular for disadvantaged students whose goals are often not as ambitious as their academic potential (as measured through standardised tests) suggest they could be. Given that the range of possible occupations is expanding while the occupations teenagers state they are interested in are narrowing in some OECD countries (Mann et al., 2020[6]), and that around a quarter of students both in Australia and across the OECD are expected to work in occupations projected to decline (OECD, 2021[7]), pre-employment interventions that make students more familiar with different jobs and that can allow them to connect how they perform at school to later education and job opportunities appear warranted. Third, students with a more clearly defined idea about their later goals may be more engaged at school than others (Chung et al., 2022[8]), positively affecting their school performance and reducing the risk of dropout.

This chapter provides an overview of policies concerning three types of pre-employment interventions: career education, career counselling and guidance, and employer engagement. Moreover, it discusses how pre-employment interventions can be embedded in the wider community and strengthen social inclusion along with improving education- and work-related outcomes. Paid employment, in the form of part-time or summer work, can be another way for young people to gain first experiences with the world of work. Since finding a part-time job is a personal or family decision rather than driven by any official policy other than relevant child labour protection laws and tax rules, the evidence on the link between paid employment while being a young student and the likelihood of being not in employment, education or training (NEET) later on is discussed in Box 3.1.

For the purposes of this report, career education is defined to encompass classroom activities or programmes adopted by schools or teachers that are intended to prepare students for their entry into the labour market. For younger students in particular, it may simply involve teachers talking about the real-world application of certain parts of a lesson. They can also take the form of career-planning courses for students, the development of practical job-seeking skills, specific in-class activities such as career simulations or field trips to workplaces, or internships. Career education can occur in stand-alone courses or be integrated into other subjects. Career education and career counselling, which is discussed in the following section 3.2, are intimately linked. While career education allows students to discover different career options and explore their interests, career counselling through group or one-on-one sessions offers more individualised advice and guidance. School-based career counsellors can provide both general career education as well as career guidance. Career education often leverages contacts with employers and people in work, as discussed in section 3.3.

The current national career education strategy in Australia, Future Ready, was developed in 2019 and builds upon the 2013 National Career Development Strategy. It is aimed at building student’s career orientation skills through a variety of measures. These include providing training to teachers and school leadership on career education; providing input to parents on how they can shape conversations about career options with their children; and strengthening school-employer interactions. The strategy sets very broad objectives for state governments, schools and employers to support high quality career education for school students, but schools decide on their own strategies (DESE, 2019[10]). The strategy is intended to complement the Australian curriculum. On the website of the Australian Curriculum, Assessment and Reporting Authority (Australian Curriculum, n.d.[11]), schools can access illustrations of good practices on career education. The National Career Institute’s Blueprint for Career Development moreover provides a framework for developing and implementation career development activities for people of all ages, starting with young children (National Careers Institute, n.d.[12]).

The national strategy is complemented by strategies and interventions at the state and local level. As explained in more detail in Chapter 2, States and Territories are responsible for providing schooling, and accordingly also for their curriculum (in line with national curriculum standards). A recent article by Groves et al. (2021[13]) notes that the framework for career education in Australia is “fragmented and ineffectual”. Moreover, even within the same state, there can be wide variations in the time devoted to career education. For example, an analysis of career education in Victoria found that the range of hours of career education per student and year ranged from less than one to 12 hours, with the median at two hours. Moreover, the evaluation found that more than 80% of career education hours are directed at students in year 10 and up, leaving less than 20% for the younger age group (dandolopartners, 2017[14]). Overall, access to career information can vary by the socio-economic composition of the student body and the background of individual students in Australia (Groves et al., 2021[13]; NCSEHE, n.d.[15]).

Little is known about how frequently teachers integrate career education organically into regular lessons rather than into lessons exclusively devoted to career education. The Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA) survey does not directly question participating students or teachers about this, but it does ask teachers whether their initial or continuous teacher training covered career guidance and counselling as a topic. In 2018, around one in seven teachers in Australia had received any training in student career guidance during their initial teacher training, the second lowest share among the ten countries with available data (Figure 3.1, Panel A). A higher proportion of teachers had received training on the topic in the course of the prior 12 months’ professional development activities, but the share remains below the OECD average and well below the share in Chile, Colombia and Korea (see also Musset and Mytna Kurekova (2018[16]) on similar results for 2015).

Students, on the other hand, participate more frequently in several career development activities in Australia than on average in the 18 OECD countries that participated in the 2018 PISA survey. In particular, a higher share of students in Australia than the OECD average had completed an internship or attended a job fair. However, slightly fewer Australian students than overall OECD students had had the opportunity to shadow someone on their job/visit a workplace, or to fill out a questionnaire about their interests and abilities (Figure 3.1, Panel B). A few national data sources, some of which are now quite outdated, contained questions about whether students had talked to teachers about their career plans or future. In Australia, 59% said yes (“about their career plans”), compared to 36% in Canada (“to get information about work they may be interested in”) and 64% in the United Kingdom (“an individual conversation regarding their future”) (Covacevich et al., 2021[17]).

Historically, the evidence on the impact of career education on later NEET outcomes has been scarce. Reviewing international literature, (Hughes et al., 2016[18]; Mann, Denis and Percy, 2020[9]) highlighted the lack of experimental and quasi-experimental data in the field. In the context of the OECD Career Readiness project, which seeks to provide evidence-based advice to governments, schools and other stakeholders on how to prepare young people for the transition to the labour market, OECD education specialists carried out a review on the impact of career education and guidance activities on education and employment outcomes. In particular, they reviewed longitudinal datasets in ten countries, including Australia. Such datasets typically ask students around age 15 to confirm whether they had participated in a range of different career development activities. Commonly, ten years later, the studies return to the same young people and collect data about their economic status, earnings (if in work) and levels of job satisfaction. Table 3.1 provides an overview of the evidence of the impact of career education activities on NEET status during the later teenage or mid-twenties years. Some found that participation in these activities was associated with lower NEET prevalence, while others found no statistically significant impacts. In most cases, the reductions in the likelihood were relatively modest. The identified studies did not disaggregate the impacts for different groups of students, and thus do not provide evidence on how the policies affect young people at higher risk of marginalisation more particularly.

First, there are relatively few data sources that contain information about whether an individual had benefitted from career education during their early teenage years and about their educational enrolment and employment status at a later point in time. This means that the impact of career education policies on NEET outcomes can only be studied for a few countries and periods. Even in situations where longitudinal data are available, the NEET status itself may not always be confirmed, leading to difficulties in estimating a causal impact. For example, a recent study of the impact of English schools fulfilling the Gatsby Benchmarks of good career guidance (which include activities such as providing access to information, employer engagement and personal career counselling) on outcomes after leaving year 11 found a positive impact on students leaving into a sustained destination in employment, education or training. However, the contrary – that fulfilment of the benchmarks was associated with reduced NEET rates – could not be proven, possibly because some students’ destinations could not be traced (Percy and Tanner, 2021[20]).

Second, even for countries in which such data sources are available, they suffer from a number of inherent shortcomings. In particular, the data sources – which often rely on the PISA study for the initial measurement of career education activities – do little to measure quality and intensity of these activities. Career education activities that are integrated into regular classes are unlikely to be captured by any of the available variables. Career development programmes delivered by schools assume a cumulative benefit for students. Data analysis has to date only been able to focus on statistical relationships between participation in individual career development activities or attitudes as recorded by participants and later employment outcomes. The data are also inevitably old, meaning that evidence on any new career education activities is not available. Finally, it is also rarely known whether a student was required to undertake the career education activity, volunteered to participate or was selected to participate, meaning that here can be a selection bias: more motivated students may be more likely to participate in a voluntary activity, leading to an over-estimation of the association between participation in career education and reductions in the likelihood of becoming NEET. In contrast, if students were selected into the activity for example because of poor grades, the association between participation and later NEET status could be under-estimated. The studies mentioned in Table 3.1 aimed to account for factors which might distort findings by controlling statistically for characteristics which are most confidently associated with post-secondary employment and education outcomes, notably academic achievement, gender and social background. Nevertheless, these adjustments cannot overcome all of the inherent weaknesses. Given these difficulties, the lack of clear empirical proof that career education is beneficial to later NEET outcomes does not negate its potential usefulness. In particular, certain studies provide indirect evidence that suggest mechanisms through which career education may affect future employment and education outcomes:

  • Prevent students from eliminating pathways prematurely: Early career education can ensure that young students do not eliminate certain options prematurely, for example because they believe the occupation to “belong” to the other gender (Hughes et al., 2016[18]; Kashefpakdel, Rehill and Hughes, 2018[21]). In an evaluation of the Career-Related Learning Pathfinder pilot programme that sought to strengthen career education in selected English primary schools in deprived areas, students, and particularly boys, saw stronger reductions in stereotypical thinking about suitable careers for men and women than students in comparison schools (Wade et al., 2010[22]). This could theoretically lead to a better fit between the educational choices of young people and their interests and skills.

  • Improve educational outcomes: In the context of a randomised controlled trial of a career education-oriented teacher training programme in North Carolina, teachers started providing more career-relevant materials to their students, which boosted student scores in mathematics, though not in reading (Rose et al., 2012[23]; Woolley et al., 2013[24]). An early meta-analysis also found positive impacts of career education on student results in reading and mathematics, and particularly so for primary school students, but largely from programmes that devoted significantly more time to career education (Evans and Burck, 1992[25]). Students with better test scores and grades may be less likely to leave education early and to enter the NEET status. For example, a Norwegian study found that the grade point average in lower secondary school was more predictive of NEET status two years after taking the test of the Programme for the International Assessment of Adult Competencies (PIAAC) while the young people were in the 16-24 age group than the PIAAC score itself. The researchers found that increasing the grade point average by one standard deviation reduced the likelihood of being NEET by 7 percentage points (Barth et al., 2021[26]).

  • Increase career certainty and alignment: School-based career education can positively influence career certainty and career alignment with their occupational ambitions (see in particular Table 6.2 in Covacevich et al. (2021[4])), which in turn have been found to be associated with positive outcomes later in life. Based on survey responses from 706 secondary students in New South Wales, students who had not participated in career education activities, such as talking to counsellors or participating in career education classes, were more likely not to know what they wanted to do when they finished with school (Galliott and Graham, 2015[27]). Students in their mid-teens who could formulate some expectation about their occupation as an adult were 6 percentage points less likely to be NEET in their mid-twenties in Canada; while there was no significant association in the People’s Republic of China (hereafter “China”), Korea, the United Kingdom and the United States (Covacevich et al., 2021[17]). Having education and occupational goals that were aligned was associated with a 1.27 times lower NEET rate in Korea, while there was no significant association in Canada, China and Germany. Based on data from the British Cohort Study, boys with misaligned or uncertain career aspirations at age 16 were particularly more likely to be NEET during the following two years if they came from less advantaged socio-economic backgrounds. For girls, this heightened impact for those from less advantaged backgrounds did not occur (Yates et al., 2011[28]). The negative association persists over time, with young people with misaligned or uncertain career ambitions experiencing more months of unemployment between ages 16 to 34 and lower wages at age 34. However, women who overestimated educational requirements for their career aspiration did not experience lower wages once their educational attainment was controlled for (Sabates, Harris and Staff, 2011[29]).

Across the OECD, approaches to career education vary from creating dedicated career education classes to integrating career education into other subjects, and from delivering the education through specialised internal staff, in particular guidance counsellors, external partners such as dedicated public employment service employees, or through “regular” subject teachers. School staff may also involve parents and employers into their career education activities. While this section will focus on the role of teachers, the following section on career guidance and employer engagement will provide inputs on the role of internal and external guidance counsellors and of employers, respectively. Table 3.2 provides selected examples of career education interventions across Australia and other OECD countries. Programmes that were implemented at only one school or that are commercial offers are not presented. The OECD’s Career Readiness project website also provides many of these examples.

Career education should be adapted to the needs of different age groups and ideally progress over time in a coherent manner. For example, some primary and secondary schools on New Zealand’s North Island have adopted the “WE3 Continuum and Activities” framework. During the exposure phase targeted at ages 10 to 14, teachers present concepts about the world of work to students. During the exploratory phase, from ages 13 to 16, students hear from people about their careers or can explore basic tasks of a particular trade they are interested in. From age 16 onwards, students can start with work experience activities. Online career education and planning platforms, such as the myBlueprint component of the Future Ready Learning K-12 programme, can complement classroom instruction through allowing students to explore career and education options that they are personally most interested in an age-appropriate way. Online platforms can also complement the information that teachers and career guidance counsellor offer to students with particular needs, such as on which workplace accommodations disabled individuals can count on.

Many countries include career education as a part of the curriculum, but the degree to which this results in mandatory classwork components, or even separate career education classes, varies. France, through its Parcours Avenir, takes an approach similar to Australia in that its curriculum mandates that schools help students explore the world of work, but leaves schools a wide latitude in how they want to achieve this. The focus of Korea’s Free Learning Semester and the optional Irish transition year can vary from school to school and student to student but will in many cases include some type of work experience. On the other end of the spectrum, Norway’s Educational Choice Subject mandates 110 hours of career education, leaving schools the choice of how to distribute these hours across the three years of lower secondary education. While leaving schools the option to shape career education can make activities more pertinent to the local context, it can also lead to unequal access in career education opportunities. In the case of the voluntary Irish transition year, for example, which has been found to be associated with better academic outcomes, the share of participating schools and students varied according to the socio-economic composition of the student body, and thereby potentially compounded existing disadvantages (Clerkin, 2013[30]).

Whole-of-school or even whole-of-community approaches to career education that combine the capabilities of counsellors, teachers, external partners, employers and parents are likely to be the most successful. In order to work well, however, teachers need the necessary skills to integrate references to the world of work within their regular lesson plans, and parents may need guidance on how to best talk to their children about their future.

One pathway to strengthen career education is to integrate it into the initial and continuing education curriculum for teachers. As previously mentioned, relatively few Australian teachers have received training in career education. Evidence suggests that the career education components within teacher training can be relatively short and nonetheless have an impact, suggesting that continuous training options can be an important ingredient to improve career education. For example, a five-module training for Turkish middle school teachers, who generally do not receive any training in career education during their initial studies, was able to raise the participants’ perceived self-efficacy in providing career education, but did not impact their communication skills (Karacan Ozdemir et al., 2022[31]). In the previously mentioned North Carolinian randomised controlled trial of a career education-oriented teacher training programme, lower secondary teachers attended a half-day group training class and received sample lesson plans. This resulted not only in teachers presenting more career-related material, but improved students’ grades (Rose et al., 2012[23]; Woolley et al., 2013[24]).

It may be possible to provide at least some of the continuous training for teachers in a digital format. This can be particularly attractive in a country with large remote rural populations. Programmes such as Future Ready Learning K-12 programme in New Brunswick, Canada are experimenting with providing the teacher training through online modules but have not been evaluated yet. To be effective, digital offers for teachers should follow principles that are also good features of in-person learning. Yet they also need to take into account the digital skills of teachers and reflect the potential advantages of online offers, such as increased customisation. For example, the Gender4STEM programme’s e-learning platform provides teachers with a self-assessment tool and teaching materials to increase girls’ interest in Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) subjects (Gender4STEM, 2018[32]). Digital tools may thus allow teachers to simultaneously identify and address any knowledge gaps and help them in providing better guidance for specific populations such as girls, students with disabilities and Indigenous students. Combining online and offline learning may be particularly beneficial (Minea-Pic, 2020[33]).

Providing teachers with appropriate materials on career education is another way to improve the quality of career education interventions. For example, teachers involved in teaching mandatory career education in Norway noted that they lacked appropriate teaching material and struggled with differentiating the career education according to the needs of students (Lødding and Holen, 2012[34]) cited in (Roise, 2020[35]). However, to be effective, the materials on career education need to be easy to access and integrate into lessons, and teachers need to be convinced of the importance of career education to devote time to it (Mahat et al., 2022[36]).

Creating a network between different stakeholders involved in career education, including parents, can be helpful. In Australia, the Belconnen Schools Network is a collaboration between public schools and colleges, community agencies, employers, further education providers, parents and staff from the Education Support Office, with the goal of improving career education for students. Services include supporting school students with leadership and guidance for career practitioners and careers administrative staff in schools. The Network also aims at increasing school students’ knowledge about employment and careers through talks by professionally qualified career practitioners, educators from universities and employers from local businesses (Department of Education, Skills and Employment, n.d.[37]). In a number of interventions, schools provide information about career education to parents or involve them in career education activities. The empirical evidence about the effectiveness of these types of interventions, if it exists at all, is mixed, ranging from negligible to positive (Oomen, 2016[38]).

Well-developed career education can mitigate some of the disadvantages that certain groups may face in their career development capabilities. In general, students from socio-economically advantaged households are more likely to be able to rely on their parents’ knowledge in considering different educational pathways; and can moreover benefit from their parents’ social network to access information and potentially internship opportunities (OECD, 2021[7]). Well-implemented career education can compensate for some of the disadvantages this can entail for students from households with less educational and cultural capital. Research from Korea, for example, shows that students whose parents had higher educational levels had higher career development skills, as measured by such items as whether they knew how to explore different job options and how to prepare for job requirements, while parental income levels had no influence. Participating in a career education class reduced the association between parental education and career development skills; suggesting that career education can help students whose parents have lower educational attainment increase their career development skills (Lee et al., 2021[39]). Gibbons et al. (2019[40]) also suggest that career education programmes should adjust to a cultural group’s unique strengths and values. For example, in the case of Rural Appalachia in the United States, they noted the need to incorporate considerations of the strong values of community connection and responsibility to family into how career educators communicated about possible pathways.

Career counselling and guidance ideally allows students to identify career pathways that match their skills and interests, as well as opportunities for work and learning, through one-on-one or group counselling sessions. While career education may be delivered by non-specialised teachers as well as guidance counsellors, and involve the support of parents, employers and the community at large, dedicated experts have a primary role in providing career counselling. The counselling may be delivered at school, in dedicated youth employment centres or in public employment service offices.

In Australia, the resources for career guidance for younger students and their parents appear somewhat limited. The report of the review of senior secondary pathways into work, further education and training noted that even for senior secondary students, high-quality career advice in schools appeared to be the exception rather than the rule, though precise data on this topic is lacking (Education Council, 2020[50]). For younger students, such advice is likely to be even less common. The National Careers Institute, part of the Department of Employment and Workplace Relations, is a resource for careers information and support for people living in Australia. Among their priorities are the provision of tailored career support for school leavers and young people aged between 15 to 24. They also administer the Partnerships Grants programme to encourage businesses, industry, schools and community organisations to collaborate to improve career outcomes (Department of Education, Skills and Employment, 2022[51]). However, this once again leaves out younger students.

The requirements for guidance counsellors can vary by states and school type. In a literature review on career development learning, Austin et al. (2020[52]) note that for example New South Wales does not have a clear job description for career advisors; and that counsellors may not have the necessary skills. The problem may be more acute in remote and isolated schools that often suffer from high staff turnover. The Maximising Engagement, Attainment and Successful Transitions (MEAST) programme provided states and territories with funding for specific initiatives supporting multiple learning pathways, career development and mentoring. Frequently, this funding went to study grants for career education qualifications. Funding was also used to lead professional learning workshops for teachers and youth workers on how to use pathways planning as part of the Career and Transition Framework (Dandolopartners, 2014[53]).

Despite the relatively negative judgement on the availability of career guidance from Australian sources, the actual availability compared to other OECD countries is in fact not that low. According to PISA 2018 student responses, 64% and 23% of Australian students had spoken to a career advisor at or outside their school by the age of 15-16, with two-thirds having spoken to an advisor either within and/or outside their school. This compares favourably to the OECD (18-country) average of 50% and 24%, respectively. The share of students who have spoken to an in-school advisor is only larger in Denmark (84%), Iceland (72%) and the United Kingdom (66%) (Mann, Denis and Percy, 2020[9]). However, the less positive judgement could reflect that support is perceived as insufficient. As in other countries, there are also differences in the availability of career counselling by students’ socio-economic background, with the availability ranging from 63% for those from the quartile with the least advantaged and 72% for the most advantaged socio-economic quartile. In part, this is driven by variation of in-school provision.

As is the case with the evidence on the link between career education and later NEET outcomes, the direct evidence on the impact of career guidance is limited, but indirect evidence suggests that career guidance may lower the chance of a young person becoming NEET.

Table 3.3 summarises results from existing selected longitudinal studies of the association between career guidance activities and NEET status in the late teenage years or mid-twenties. The first study focuses on the association between NEET status by age 25 and participation in career guidance at age 15 (talking to a career counsellor according to responses to the PISA student survey). In Canada, having participated in these activities was associated with a three percentage point lower probability of being NEET in the mid-twenties, while there was no statistically significant relationship in Germany and in the United Kingdom. However, it needs to be noted that these studies do not prove that participating in career guidance causes the NEET probability to drop, as the same constraints mentioned in the career education evidence section apply. A second study that sought to establish a causal link between talking to a career counsellor and not being unemployed during the first five years after completing school is based on the differential roll-out of job information centres around Germany. The study found that students at all schools or at lower and intermediate level schools (whose terminal degree does not lead to an upper secondary degree) were eight and ten percentage points less likely, respectively, to experience unemployment during the first five years since graduating from school if they had lived in a district where a job information centre opened. However, these effects appeared to be larger for earlier cohorts before the widespread availability of the Internet, suggesting that they would now be smaller. Moreover, the results are only statistically significant at the 10% but not the standard 5% significance level.

The evidence from these few direct studies is bolstered by other studies that show a positive association between career guidance and education outcomes on the one hand and career guidance and career aspirations or career readiness on the other hand:

  • Education outcomes: The previously mentioned study by Saniter (2014[54]) on the impact of Job Information Centres concluded that for students who attended a lower- or intermediate-level school, being exposed to a centre boosted their probability of attaining the highest-level school leaving certificate (Abitur) and a university degree by seven and five percentage points, respectively. Tomaszeski, Perales and Ning (2016[55]) concluded that in Australia, listening to a talk by a career guidance professional (but, interestingly, not talking to a guidance counsellor) was associated with an increased likelihood of enrolling in university. This increase was even larger for young people from a low socio-economic background but smaller for those who came from a non-English speaking background. Mann et al. (Mann et al., 2020[6]) also cite several US studies that found a positive relationship between the ratio of career counsellors to students and the likelihood of students enrolling at university. Higher educational attainment can lower the likelihood of being NEET both directly and indirectly. First, during any time that a young person continues to be enrolled in formal education, they are by definition not NEET. Second, in many countries, higher-educated young people are less likely to be NEET; and even in those countries where the relationship is inversed and highly educated young people at a higher risk of being NEET, their risk of remaining NEET over the long term is usually low.

  • Career aspirations and readiness: Having access to career guidance appears to reduce the share of young people who are uncertain about their career aspirations. For example, among students who performed relatively poorly in the PISA 2018, 28% who did and 33% who did not have access to career guidance at school were uncertain about their career aspirations; and this access also appears to slightly reduce career misalignment (i.e. having too low or high educational aspirations for the career that one aspires to) (see also Table 6.2 in Covacevich et al. (2021[4])). However, PISA data provide no insight into the intensity and duration of participation in career development activities or on whether participation was compulsory (Mann, Denis and Percy, 2020[9]). As discussed under the career education section, having clear career aspirations, even if these continue to evolve in different directions over time, can be associated with a reduced likelihood of becoming NEET.

Career guidance can be provided by counsellors working both within and outside of schools, with different countries choosing a different balance. Figure 3.2 shows the balance of working with school-based and outside advisors in selected OECD countries that participated in the 2018 PISA survey. In general, countries that rely more on an outside rather than school-based advisor appear to have a lower coverage of career guidance. However, it is certainly also true that it would be possible to design a career guidance system using outside advisors that reaches high coverage. Moreover, if outside advisors visit schools for one-on-one or group guidance sessions, students may perceive them to be school rather than outside advisors. Switching from one mode of delivery to another can be an issue: in the United Kingdom, the responsibility for career guidance for young people used to lie with local entities, and often provided through dedicated career services. In other cases, the external career services were included in the Connexions Centres, whose mission was predominately dedicated to assisting at-risk young people and which were not always as well equipped to provide career guidance (Watts, 2008[56]). In 2010, the responsibility was switched to schools, which appeared to lead to a reduction in guidance for many students (Moote and Archer, 2017[57]). Table 3.4 provides an overview of selected career guidance interventions.

Some countries favour within-school career guidance. Hiring specific staff for guidance and counselling can increase the quality of the service provided to students. In-school counsellors may be particularly effective at providing guidance for younger adolescents and those most at risk of dropout. In order to prevent career guidance to be “swallowed” by other guidance functions (such as for students’ personal, mental or behavioural problems), several countries such as Poland and Norway have separate career and other guidance counsellors (Watts and Sultana, 2004[59]). Special Education Needs Co-ordinators (SENCos) may co-operate with career counsellors in providing targeted career and education guidance to students with special education needs (Brussino, 2020[60]).

In-school career guidance requires adequate resources (European Training Foundation, 2020[61]). In Korea, the Ministry of Education recruited a sufficient number of career counsellors to cover more than 95% of schools by 2014. These career guidance teachers are required to have a full teaching degree as well as an additional 570 hours of training in guidance; and post-graduate degrees in career counselling for primary and secondary school counsellors exist (OECD, 2019[62]). In Finland, school guidance counsellors are obliged to check up on students at the conclusion of lower secondary education at age 16 and make sure that they enrol in either upper secondary education or vocational education. In Tasmania, year 10 students similarly now need a transition statement, but this is not related to a mandatory check-in with a guidance counsellor (Tasmanian Government Department for Education, n.d.[63]). Following parliamentary recommendations, the ratio of students to guidance counsellors in the country is around 250 to 1. These counsellors are full-time salaried members of the school staff who provide individual career guidance to students, oversee the mandatory career education compulsory hours, and liaise with employers (Toni and Vuorinen, 2020[64]). The latter has been found to be instrumental in providing effective guidance to students (CEDEFOP et al., 2021[65]), as will be discussed more in the following section.

Other countries also provide career guidance at school, but through outside experts rather than in-school guidance counsellors. For example, in Scotland, schools can ask staff from Skills Development Scotland to deliver career services at school, including one-on-one and group activities, and to link up with employers for outreach activities. Similarly, Northern Irish schools have partnerships with the careers’ service (Holt-White, Montacute and Tibbs, 2022[66]). Through the activities of the National Career Institute, Australia is likewise following a model that complements in-school career guidance resources with external ones.

In other countries, career counselling in school is complemented by out-of-school guidance centres. These can be focused solely on career guidance, as is the case with the Youth Career Centres in Slovenia or the Croatian Employment Service’s CISOC centres. The CISOC centres are administered by the Croatian Employment Service and address school children, university students and individuals who are NEET. For secondary students, activities include workshops where students fill out interactive questionnaires and participate in exercises and discussions with the aim of improving their awareness of personal strengths and weaknesses, interests and objectives (OECD, n.d.[67]). In other cases, outside services combine career guidance with other services, such as in Finland’s “one-stop guidance centres”. In 2019, such guidance centres were operating in over 100 municipalities in Finland (Kettunen and Felt, 2020[68]). Digital tools can also be helpful, especially so for young people living in remote rural areas. The OECD will launch an Observatory on the use of digital technologies in career guidance of youth in spring 2023 that will collect good practice examples.

Contacts with employers and work-based learning can allow young people to get a taste for what being in a workplace feels like, explore whether they might be interested in a particular occupation and rule options in and out, increase their confidence, start to build their professional network and potentially even strengthen their soft skills (Jones, Mann and Morris, 2016[69]). Integrating contacts with employers but also with workers into career education can make the lessons “come alive” and thereby increase students’ interest in thinking about their future occupation. In general, work-based learning includes activities such as employer outreach, job shadowing, service learning, internships and school-based apprenticeships (see Chapter 4) (Kis, 2016[70]). For the younger age group that this report focuses on, the most common forms of employer engagement and work-based learning include career days at school with employer presentations and workplace visits and job shadowing; as well as short internships for those reaching the end of lower secondary education.

Industry-school partnerships exist at all school levels, but activities appear stronger in upper secondary school. A 2010 report on school-business relations found that all surveyed secondary schools that co-operated with employers did so on transition and employability programmes, and almost all offered activities to enhance student engagement with industry, such as workplace visits, and supporting student aspirations, such as through leadership and skills development. The reported statistics did not distinguish between offers for lower and upper secondary students. Around 60% of primary schools also offered activities to enhance student engagement with industry and supporting student aspirations, respectively (PhilippsKPA, 2010[71]). In an overview of 14 case studies illustrating the guiding principles for school-business relationships developed following the recommendation of the 2012 Business-School Connections Roundtable, two case studies explicitly mentioned working with younger students. These include a solar car competition for year 8 and 9 students that involves company mentors; and a leadership programme for year 5 and 6 students that includes a visit to a management consulting company (Department of Education, 2012[72]).

In the past, the Australian Government also supported connections between education and training providers, businesses, families and the wider community through the School, Business and Community Partnership Brokers programme. The programme’s national network of brokers was meant to set up sustainable partnerships between the different parties to support young people’s learning and development.

Despite these efforts, PISA 2018 results show that fewer Australian students than in the OECD on average have taken part in a workplace visit or work shadowing, while a higher share have completed an internship (Figure 3.1). The largest barriers to employer engagement are insufficient time or resources to host students (Knight and Mlotkowski, 2009[73]). Work-based learning opportunities appear more plentiful for upper compared to lower secondary students. At the upper secondary stage, students can enter Australia’s vocational education and training system, in which work-based learning is an integral part. This option is described in more detail in Chapter 4 on vocational education. Other upper secondary students can complete an internship that counts as an elective course (OECD, 2020[74]). That said, lower secondary students may also complete internships.

There exist few empirical studies on the relationship between employer engagement and work-based learning (beside formal VET programmes) for younger students (see Table 3.5). Job shadowing appeared to be associated with a reduction in the incidence of being NEET for girls but not boys in the United States; and likewise with a modest reduction in Canada and a less modest one in Korea. For Germany, the United Kingdom and an alternative US study, there were no statistically significant relationships found. Internships were associated with a reduction in the NEET status of young men in the United Kingdom, and particularly those whose characteristics suggested they were less likely to attend university, while there was no such association found for young women. In the same study, mentoring was not associated with any impacts. A different study, also for the United Kingdom, found much more positive associations between employer engagement activities (employer career talks, enterprise competitions and work experiences) and reductions in the likelihood of being NEET at age 19 to 24. Another British study found that the perceived quality of the employer engagement activity – in this case, a career talk by an external speaker – can matter as well. While career talks attended at age 14-15 were associated with higher wages at age 26, the same was only true for 15-16 year-olds who rated the talk as helpful (Kashefpakdel and Percy, 2017[75]).

A weakness of the literature on the impact of employer engagement activities on NEET outcomes is that few studies focus on the characteristics and quality of the work experience or provide evidence that distinguishes between the impacts of job shadowing and mentoring for lower and upper secondary students. More contacts with employers are however positively associated with increased earnings and reduced NEET risks (Percy and Mann, 2014[76]; Mann and Percy, 2014[77]).

Employer involvement in career education can be organised by individual schools, as a region- or country-wide initiative, or by employers themselves. Several initiatives can have dual goals, such as raising the profile of the employer within their community as well as breaking down occupational gender stereotypes (Table 3.6).

In Austria, the French Community of Belgium, Germany, the Netherlands and Switzerland, the Girls’ day (and more recently Boys’ day) takes place once a year and is organised on a country-wide basis, with individual schools deciding whether they will offer their students from fifth grade onwards the opportunity to participate. During this day, companies carry out information events on industries and occupations that fall outside the “traditional” image of a woman’s or man’s career choice, such as engineering for girls and nursing for boys. Evaluations of the long-term impact of participation in a girls’ or boys’ day on educational and occupational choices, and let alone on later NEET outcomes, do not appear to exist. Instead, existing reports simply concluded that a good share of participants stated that the day introduced them to interesting occupations that they might consider for themselves (see for example (Wentzel and Funk, 2014[80])).

Local governmental organisations and partnership brokers can also play a role in strengthening employer engagement in schools. Aside from the previously mentioned School, Business and Community Partnership Brokers programme, another example is the English Local Enterprise Partnerships. The programme brings together local authorities and businesses. They may include representatives from local educational institutions on their board and have served as a vector to involve employers in schools’ career education in a targeted way.

Employers can also run their own engagement programmes. Among one of these programmes that targets both younger and older teens is Microsoft’s DigiGirlz programme that offers both one-day workplace visits as well as multi-day workshops.

Several countries mandate that lower secondary students participate in job shadowing or short internships (Brussino and McBrien, 2022[82]). For example, within the context of the mandatory Educational Choice subject in Norway aimed at eight to tenth graders, students typically complete a one-week internship, along with “trying out” different courses in upper secondary schools. Similarly, Finnish students complete one-week Introduction-to-working life periods, usually in both eight and ninth grade, that are supposed to give a first taste of the world of work but also be linked to the learning in academic subjects at school. A recent evaluation (Mayer et al., 2022[81]) concluded that access conditions were not equal and recommended the establishment of a national monitoring system and of programme co-ordinators at the national and local level. An ongoing project is moreover developing guidelines and training materials for companies and young people so that they can make the most of the experience (Alma Media, 2022[83]).

The usage of the concept of social exclusion to describe risk factors and consequences of becoming or being NEET is relatively new. Therefore, it is uncommon to find social integration as an aim of interventions to address NEET rates. This “blind spot” is an occasional criticism of both the NEET concept as such, and of interventions whose operational goal is to reduce the NEET rate (Hargie, O’Donnell and McMullan, 2010[84]; Phillips, 2010[85]). Moreover, when used, it is mostly applied to older youth, and may be seen more as an outcome of the state of being NEET rather than as a contributing factor. Despite this absence of specific research (and therefore of evidence on the impact of social inclusion related interventions on NEET rates), it stands to reason that social connectedness can have positive effects on an individual’s well-being, and thereby indirectly on their chances of completing school and having the necessary endurance to overcome obstacles during their school-to-work transition. One area where the relationship between social ties and a NEET-related outcome has been studied is with regards to school completion. Adverse social experiences at school, such as bullying and rejection by other students is a risk factor for dropout, while having “school-oriented” friendships and support from other students are a protective factor (Johansson, 2019[86]).

Community and social inclusion related interventions can be hypothesised to support NEET prevention in a number of ways.

An example of an innovative community programme is the Harlem Children’s Zone, a non-profit organisation in Harlem, New York City. The project combines community programmes with charter schools, publicly funded schools run by private organisations. The schools are intended to offer students and their families a wide range of services, including benefits assistance, and other social services. A 2010 study found that while the Children’s Zone’s middle schools managed to close the racial attainment gap in selected test scores, the offered community programmes had no further impact on academic achievement (Dobbie and Fryer, 2010[87]). However, the paper did not investigate whether the further community services may have other positive impacts aside from academic results, and therefore does not demonstrate that further community services have no use.

As discussed in the career education section, involving the broader community of parents and employers in career education can make career opportunities come more alive for students, and thereby raise their interest. Programmes to raise community involvement in career education are likely to be substantially cheaper than larger, more ambitious programmes such as the Harlem Children’s Zone. Inspiring the Future programme, run by the British Education and Employers charity, connects secondary schools to volunteers willing to share stories about their career experiences. On the programme’s website, volunteers can list their sector and occupation, and teachers can identify volunteers that would fit best with their career education objective and invite them to talk to students about their work, including through speed networking events (Education and Employers, 2022[88]). A similar programme under the same name now exists in New Zealand and parts of Australia. The Route to VET programme of the Danish Vocational and Technical School Students Union likewise connects volunteers with schools. In this case, the volunteers are current VET students and recent graduates. An evaluation estimates that out of each 100 students visited, an additional six people would consider a vocational education pathway (Rambøll, 2021[89]).

Offering young people more options on how to pass their free time in enjoyable and productive ways can strengthen friendships and lower the risk of substance abuse, which in turn might increase educational attainment and thereby lower NEET risks. The Icelandic prevention model brings together researchers, schools, parents, sports clubs and youth workers to strengthen the prevention of substance abuse in teenagers. In the context of the model, more activities were proposed to parents, to strengthen their social connections and make it more likely that potentially harmful teenage activities, such as staying out too late, were reduced. Teenagers increased their participation in organised activities, such as sports, spent more time with their parents, and reduced their use of drugs and alcohol (Sigfusdottir et al., 2008[90]). While it was not possible to identify a study that investigated the impact of the Icelandic model on the likelihood of becoming NEET, it is likely that such a positive relationship indeed exists given the reduction in risky behaviours that can contribute to worse educational outcomes.

Early interventions that prevent mental health issues from worsening can likewise reduce the risk that a young person will become NEET, given the strong link between mental health problems and inactivity. Australia has made mental health a central component of its 2021 Youth Policy. Headspace, the National Youth Mental Health Foundation, provides integrated services to 12-25 year-olds to address their mental health, alcohol and drug and work concerns (Department of Education, Skills and Employment, 2021[91]). An evaluation of the programme concluded almost half of Headspace’s clients experienced a decrease in mental distress, which was clinically significant for 13.3% of service recipients. For this group of young people who showed significant reductions in mental distress, the number of days per month that they were unable to study or worked dropped from an average of 7.6 to 3.1 days. While the evaluation did not follow prior participants longitudinally, it can be hypothesised that if the benefits on young people’s mental health persists, this might also be associated with a decrease in the likelihood of remaining in or entering the NEET status.


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