What choice? An evaluation of career development services for young people

By Linda Rainey, Michele Simons, Val Pudney, Elvie Hughes Research report 18 February 2008 ISBN 978 1 921170 11 9 print; 978 1 921170 17 1 web


This study evaluates a selection of career development services available for young people. It examines the characteristics of the services provided, with a focus on career decision-making and the provision of information about vocational education and training (VET) options. The education providers and young people surveyed were generally satisfied with the services provided. However, it was agreed that information about VET options could be improved. A better understanding of the ways in which young people seek help will enhance accessibility to services.


About the research

This study evaluates a selection of career development services available to young people in Australia. It examines the characteristics of services provided, including the provision of information about vocational education and training (VET) and assistance with career decision-making.

  • Career service providers in technical and further education (TAFE) institutes, universities and government agencies believe they are most effective in helping young people to explore, and make decisions about, their options for work and further learning.
  • Career providers find that, while many young people are willing to consider vocational education and training, they often express a preference for university pathways.
  • Only a small proportion of eligible TAFE and university students are accessing available career services. Developing an understanding about what motivates young people to use career development services is an important step in providing services to attract them.
  • Young people like to manage their own careers. Easy-to-use, comprehensive computer-based resources, and guidance in using these services, could further support their career development. Career providers need to present services in a way that is likely to enhance their take-up by young people; they also need to help young people to make the best use of available services.

Executive summary


The effective transition of young people from secondary education to working life is important for their social and economic wellbeing and therefore ultimately for the country as a whole (OECD 2000). In today's world young people need to navigate a pathway which has become increasingly complex, with the modern career now viewed as a continuous journey of adaptation in an ever-changing environment and expressed in the term 'career development'. A variety of personal support systems are available to young people, as well as a wide pool of career-related services, arrangements and agencies to assist them in both the public and the private sectors.

The study

The purpose of this study was to evaluate the effectiveness of career development services available to, and utilised by, young people aged 15 to 24 years at the transition point of post-compulsory schooling and in the early years of their careers, with a particular focus on career decision-making and outcomes relating to vocational education and training (VET). This study evaluated these services from the viewpoint of: these young people and key influencers; the agencies providing the services; and stakeholders in the education bureaucracy. These findings may help in understanding the interaction between client need and service provision and may assist in identifying ways in which career development services could be enhanced to better meet the needs of young people in contemporary school-to-work transitions.

Research design

The research questions focused on evaluating a selected number of career development services available to young people. The research design included:

  • a preliminary analysis of career development services from information obtained through scoping interviews with state and territory VET and education authorities
  • an extensive literature review of mainly Australian, but also a number of international publications relating to career development services
  • telephone interviews with a number of providers of career development services in the tertiary education sector
  • an online survey made available to selected groups of providers in the public and private sectors
  • a self-administered questionnaire survey of young people to explore their experiences of using career services at school as well as outside school
  • an evaluation of relevant websites.

Additional qualitative data were collected in interviews conducted with a sample of tertiary students as part of the Crazy paving or stepping stones? project (Harris, Rainey & Sumner 2006).

The career development providers invited to participate in the study were drawn from national career development services located in: universities and technical and further education (TAFE) colleges; private providers of VET; private practitioners; private agencies who were contracted to deliver federal government programs; and the Australian Government Career Information Centres. Other than Career Information Centres, most of the remaining agencies had eligibility criteria of some kind which shaped access, although services within the tertiary sector often extended beyond servicing students and provided services to the general public, by virtue of their being potential students.

While the sample of clients comprised young people who had accessed these services, the selected interviews included both users and non-users of services. In this way, it was possible to obtain some useful insights into career development services from people who did not use them routinely.

Further information about the research is available in appendices A-I of the accompanying support document (see http://www.ncver.edu.au/publications/1943.html).

Summary of findings

Characteristics of the services provided

In analysing the career development services included in the study, we looked at specific components of their delivery: career education, information, guidance, advice, placement and referral (see glossary for definitions). Based on responses from the young people, it seems that the major focus of service provision in schools is largely on print-based career information, with some individuals participating in interviews with a career teacher/officer. The next most frequently delivered services were opportunities for work experience, followed by: participation in class-based career education; use of the internet for information and guidance; and participation in educational visits, for example, to worksites. Almost one-third of respondents accessed computer-based guidance software while at school.

While service providers claimed that they delivered these six services-the extent of delivery of each service depending on the mandate of the agency-this view was not entirely shared by the young people, who claimed that services were more focused on providing information (mostly print-based). Career development services such as work experience, industrial placements, assistance in finding employment or educational visits were reported to be offered less frequently. However, there was a high level of agreement among service providers that their delivery of career development services was determined by what young people had asked for, and that these processes had the potential to deliver the best outcomes for them.

The components of the career development process investigated in the survey of young people covered self-evaluation (that is, the individual's particular interests, skills, personality etc.), exploring work and learning options, making decisions, and making plans for future action. There was a high level of agreement between service providers and clients that all these elements of career development were comprehensively delivered, although with less focus on decision-making. Websites were a significant place for career development activity, but were found to be highly variable, with services largely determined by the provider and, as might be expected, mainly focusing on delivery of information with little guidance content. Users of such websites were usually referred to other sites for assistance with career decision-making, and were reasonably effective in this single element, although there was some indication that these sites were difficult to access and complex to use. In effect, young people often relied on informal resources when making career decisions; these included help from family and friends and were sometimes coupled with more formal sources of information and support available from designated career development services.

While providers generally agreed that they delivered information about VET options in a wide variety of ways, this perspective was slightly qualified by clients, who claimed they had received less information delivered in fewer ways. This viewpoint was qualified even further by those interviewed as part of the Harris, Rainey and Sumner (2006) study. However, most young people surveyed and those interviewed seemed open to VET possibilities and would consider undertaking VET studies.


The young people who responded to the survey and those interviewed for the 2006 study provided mixed responses about their satisfaction with the services they had received at school, with the survey group generally being more satisfied, while a larger proportion of the second group were less so.

Service providers were asked to evaluate their own effectiveness on the six dimensions of service delivery identified earlier. Providers estimated that they were most effective in encouraging these young people to explore and make decisions about work and learning options. This was followed by (in descending order of effectiveness): assisting them to make career plans for future action; providing them with the opportunity for self-exploration; and targeting their services to young people. Providers rated themselves as being least effective in presenting young people with information about VET. On the whole, providers agreed on the nature and extent of the services they offered. There were examples of extremely effective and comprehensive service delivery, as well as instances of inadequate services, raising issues of provider responsiveness, quality and consistency. The usefulness of websites was dependent on the extent to which they were accessible, useable and comprehensive.

The client satisfaction rating of the majority of these dimensions corresponded with the provider evaluation of the effectiveness of their service delivery. Where clients had been given information about VET, most were satisfied with what had been provided. Effectiveness in targeting services to young people was a more contested issue. Furthermore, there was little evidence in many of the providers surveyed of the voluntary use of career development services.


In most respects this broad sample of providers appeared to be providing comprehensive career development services suited to the target populations. However, there is some evidence that access to comprehensive and responsive services remains an issue for some young people. While those who are able to access services claim that it is easy to do so, estimates from tertiary providers suggest that, even in TAFE institutes and universities, services are only used by a small proportion of the student body. What seems to be at issue here are the 'help seeking' behaviours of young people in relation to their careers and the motivations underpinning these behaviours.

While it may be practicable for providers to specialise in one type of service delivery (for example, assisting with employment), in order to maximise outcomes for young people providers should also include the complementary services of career education, information, guidance, advice, placement or referral. Service providers do not appear to be as responsive as they believe they should be, with consequent gaps in service delivery in some sectors.

Services appear to be heavily dependent on information and personal delivery, with inadequate use/ availability of relevant computer-based services and insufficient experience-based interventions, such as placement and referral. Young people are generally positively disposed to VET study; therefore, the distribution of VET information should be improved to take advantage of this. Improved support and education are needed in the career decision-making aspect of career development services. Young people tend to want to manage their own careers, but they may not have access to the resources to accomplish this. User and non-user surveys, national collections of data and closer attention to service quality are required to support enhanced outcomes for young people.


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