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As part of an OECD Forum series, the virtual event The School-to-Work Transition will take place from 1430–1600 CET on 8 February 2023. Register your place now!
As the world recovers from the lasting effects of the COVID-19 pandemic, a crisis of confidence is posing an immediate and potentially chronic drag on progress. Young people today are entering the labour market with more years of education and qualifications than previous generations—yet a recent Qualtrics study, conducted in support of discussions in the OECD Forum Engagement Group on the Future of Work, found that they report feeling unprepared for the world of work. Navigating the transition from school to work is a critical event in a young person’s life. Students’ success transitioning from school to work, as well as their performance during the first few years on the job, are important not just for their individual advancement. In the aggregate, these early-career workers represent future national competitiveness and social development. The stakes involved—and the difficulty many students have transitioning effectively—suggest that this critical life event requires concerted planning from employers, employees, educational institutions and governments.
Most importantly, it requires a human-centred approach. Students learn, work and live at the intersection of social, economic and political systems. Uncovering their experiences helps decision makers pinpoint the unanticipated, negative consequences of systems design on students’ opportunities. The Qualtrics study was designed to do just that, and points to several key recommendations, generated from the voices of students themselves, which can help organisations design for a better future.
Read the full Qualtrics study Smoothing the transition from school to work with work-based learning
Implement work-based learning initiatives that give students a clear pathway from developing skills to competing effectively for employment
According to our research, the strongest predictor of perceived job preparedness is participation in an apprenticeship; and yet, apprenticeships are the least-common programmes respondents report being offered by their educational institutions. Respondents whose programmes offered apprenticeships were almost 20 percentage points more likely to report feeling very or extremely prepared to enter the job market than those who did not have apprenticeships (53% vs. 34%). In addition, those whose programmes had apprenticeship opportunities were more likely to report confidence across all three stages of entering the labour market: looking for a job, competing for a job, and performing in a job.
Despite their efficacy in building skills and confidence among young people, many work-based learning initiatives have been disrupted by the residual effects of the global pandemic, including a shift to remote work and digitalisation of many jobs.
Uncovering the factors that make apprenticeships effective in building student confidence could inspire other education and training programmes to adopt these practices. These include the opportunity to get comfortable in the work environment, having regular interactions with people in their field or the clear roadmap of competencies validated by progressive certifications of mastery. Educational programme directors, instructional designers and faculty could learn from apprenticeships’ ability to build student self-confidence in their own capabilities.
Understand and address the drivers of perceived underemployment among young people
Despite their efficacy in building skills and confidence among young people, many work-based learning initiatives have been disrupted by the residual effects of the global pandemic, including a shift to remote work and digitalisation of many jobs. Combined with the global mental health crisis and inflation, this trend is leaving “lasting effects” on young people, increasing risks of joblessness and precarious employment. The 2022 OECD Employment Outlook finds that the average employment rate for young people was still lower than before the pandemic in more than half of all OECD countries. In addition, underemployment is increasingly a problem as skills gaps widen.
More on the Forum Network: School-to-Work Transition: Wrong skills, wrong choices—whose fault? by Francesa Rinaldi & Giulia Monteleone, Project Manager, Laboratory for Effective Anti-Poverty Policies & Director, Bocconi University & Poliferie
Navigating the school-to-work transition presents youth with significant challenges, from unequal information about opportunities to rapidly transforming skills. To help young people thrive in the workplace, governments, employers, NGOs and education institutions need to bridge these gaps.
Qualtrics research found that underemployment affects a third of young people in the workforce today (33%), and respondents who identify as a member of a minority group were 8 percentage points more likely to report being underemployed (40% vs. 32%). Meanwhile, employers report that they struggle to recruit talent with the skills required to meet the current demands of the labour market. All too often, hiring managers look to replace departing talent with equally experienced people, leaving behind those with potential to grow—particularly students, recent graduates and those earlier in their careers. Creating career ladder positions that focus on individuals’ development can help close immediate skills gaps and build a pipeline for future experienced talent.
Confidence—a critical component of competence—does not develop by itself.
Business also needs help from governments to design social policies that help students address barriers to their employment prospects. Qualtrics found that access to transportation and affordable housing, as well as proximity to familial and social networks, were among the factors with the biggest impact on young people’s choice of employment. These barriers to labour mobility are particularly challenging for marginalised groups. Governments can invest in local and social infrastructure, and encourage transparency on employers’ efforts on diversity, equity and inclusion.
Instil confidence to help students achieve an optimistic outlook for short- and longer-term employment prospects
Confidence—a critical component of competence—does not develop by itself. The more success any individual experiences, the more optimistic they will be about their future prospects. For example, students with higher levels of self-efficacy have been shown to have higher career aspirations. Yet the current cohort of students preparing to enter the labour market demonstrates a serious shortfall in optimism. Overall, around 62% of respondents said they were optimistic about their future employment opportunities, with notable variation by degree level. Respondents who have not completed any postsecondary education were the least likely to be confident in future employment opportunities, whereas those who completed graduate degrees reported the most confidence. Respondents overall are more confident in near-term future (1–3 years) employment prospects than long-term (3–5 years) or short-term (5–12 months). Educational institutions can increase students’ confidence in their ability to succeed in the job market through experiential learning opportunities, applied work experiences and deeper connections with mentors and professors.
Every labour market stakeholder would benefit from building confidence among students. For educational institutions, job placement rates are a key indicator of success. For employers, fostering high performing employees builds more productive organisations. And for governments, an agile and optimistic workforce drives innovation, investment and economic growth. The key to designing for confidence is understanding what strategies are most effective for students’ experiences and outcomes. The first step towards this new insight is to listen to the voices of students themselves—their needs, their desires, their challenges and their dreams.