Course expectations and career management skills

By Marnie L Kennedy, Ben Haines Research report 2 July 2008 ISBN 978 1 921412 40 0 print; 978 1 921412 41 7 web


Course completion and student satisfaction is likely to be influenced by how realistic the expectations of students are when they enrol. This report explores the idea that students' expectations would be more realistic if students have well developed career management competencies.


About the research

This research is a little unusual for NCVER. While most NCVER research studies focus on issues of concern to policy or practice, this report essentially deals with a methodological issue. It considers whether the accuracy of students' course expectations is improved if the students have well-developed career management competencies.

The research consists of correlating the career management competence (as set out in the Australian Blueprint for Career Development) of 29 vocational education and training (VET) students with objective criteria - such as tasks required in a specific job, expected earnings, skills to be acquired from training - relating to the course they were undertaking. Each individual answered 12 questions to do with expectations of their future possibilities on completing the course, of the type of work likely to result from the course, and of the course itself. At the same time, each student was rated against the Blueprint's three areas of competence.

The results indicated that, on the whole, students had very realistic expectations of their course. There was, however, no clear relationship between the score and this overall level of realism.

Information gathered from the students during this project indicates that:

  • young people develop the skills they need to manage their careers through learning that occurs in both formal and informal settings
  • parents can play an important role in providing their children with relevant and realistic career information.

Readers interested in career development may also find the following report useful: Rainey, L, Simons, M, Pudney, V and Hughes, E 2008, What choice? An evaluation of career development services for young people , NCVER, Adelaide.

Tom Karmel
Managing Director, NCVER

Executive summary

There is a broad literature asserting that vocational education and training (VET) students often have poor understandings of the likely employment, career, education and training pathways that are likely to stem from their particular chosen course of VET study (Quay Connection and Phillips KPA 2005; OECD 2002, 2004; Callan 2005; Ball 2004; Ball & John 2005; The Transitions Review Group 2004). These inadequate understandings are thought to be linked to the poor completion rates experienced by some VET students, including those undertaking apprenticeships and traineeships.

The Quay Connection and Phillips KPA report of 2005 found that both parents and students identified a lack of course information as a problem. Our research suggests it is not specific information on course outcomes which is lacking but, rather, the ability to successfully navigate the wide range of information sources available, and the ability to use this information to set career goals. Students need information which will inform their understanding of where their vocational choices are located in society, how to create and secure work, how to find work - life balance in terms of their own personal priorities, and how to effectively build their careers. In essence, they are seeking the skills to make informed career (life, learning and work) decisions.

Career information provision alone is not sufficient (Department of Education, Science and Training 2006; McMahon & Patton 2006; The Allen Consulting Group 2005). Those working in the knowledge economy need to possess skills that will enable them to actively manage their careers throughout their lives in a highly mobile and frequently changing employment environment. The Australian Blueprint for Career Development: Trial version (Miles Morgan Australia 2003) outlines 11 broad career management competencies that can be learnt and which will help people to negotiate and manage their careers.

These are:

  • Area A: Personal management competencies:
    • building and maintaining a positive self-image
    • interacting positively and effectively with others
    • changing and growing throughout life.
  • Area B: Learning and work exploration competencies:
    • participation in lifelong learning supportive of career goals
    • locating and effectively using career information
    • understanding the relationship between work, society and the economy.
  • Area C: Career-building competencies:
    • securing/creating and maintaining work
    • making career-enhancing decisions
    • maintaining a balance between life and work roles
    • understanding the changing nature of life and work roles
    • understanding, engaging in and managing the career-building process.

Our research started from the premise that an individual's level of career management competence, as defined by the Blueprint, would be related to the accuracy and realism of their expectations of the employment and further educational pathways made available by their chosen course of study.

This study examined the career development stories of 29 individuals currently participating in VET. Semi-structured interviews were used to assess the career development competencies and course expectations of the students. These were compared to determine if a relationship existed.

The most surprising finding was that students' expectations of the employment and training pathways stemming from their current study were, overall, more realistic than expected, contradicting some of the literature on the course information needs of clients. Those students with broadly realistic expectations also possessed career management competencies that were developmentally appropriate. However, among the small group of students who had more unrealistic expectations of their course, overall career management competence levels were lower than would be expected of students of that age group.

It was interesting to note the existence of a small group of students who had generally poor career management skills overall, yet extremely accurate and detailed course expectations. All of these students were informed by a trusted parent on the likely outcomes of their course of study and the vocation associated with it. This is consistent with the existing literature that emphasises the important influence of parents on young people's career development. This suggests that an accurate and trusted information source, such as a well-informed parent, may lead to a student having realistic course expectations even if they have not developed high levels of career management competence. However, this may not necessarily provide the skills and understanding needed for the ongoing lifetime management of a career.

The most common career development learning experiences that students cited were work experience (including structured workplace learning; 18 students), and visiting the career service of a TAFE institution or school (18 students). Significantly, six of the students had no experience of a formal career development service or program. None of the participants, therefore, had undertaken a comprehensive and sequential career development program. This suggests that student access to programs designed to develop career management competence is limited.

This study provides tentative evidence that higher-level career management competence as defined by the Blueprint may be associated with more realistic expectations of course outcomes for VET students. However, accurate information from a trusted source, generally a parent, can also provide a student with realistic expectations about their course in lieu of well-developed career management competencies.



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