Major gaps in career guidance are leaving secondary school pupils without information on alternative options to university such as apprenticeships, according to a Department of Education-commissioned review.
Currently, nearly six out of 10 secondary graduates go on to a third-level course in Ireland, one of the highest percentages in the world, although drop-out rates are high in some courses.
Meanwhile, the relatively low numbers of students opting for apprenticeships have prompted concerns over whether too many are being directed onto third level.
Friends and family, especially mothers, are the biggest influences on pupils’ career choices, followed by fathers, guidance counsellors, siblings and subject teachers.
Pupils from poorer backgrounds receive less advice from families and have less ability to gather information about careers and labour market trends, the report found.
Guidance counsellors can play an influential role by impartial one-to-one advice, as shown by the fact that boys from poor backgrounds are significantly more likely to go onto third level if they are counselled.
The report, carried out by consultants Indecon, found that while much of our career guidance system is effective, there is an "urgent need" to make greater use of technology and create closer links with industry.
Among the report’s main recommendation are:
Employers should be encouraged to organise factory visits, guest lectures and quality work experience;
The creation of a single, user-friendly careers portal online;
Supply guidance teachers with the best use of digital and online technology;
Access for special education and adult learners to career support services, including information on labour market opportunities;
Promote inclusion by prioritising the allocation of guidance teachers for learners most in need of assistance.
Welcoming the report, Minister for Education Joe McHugh said guidance counsellors faced the challenge of helping young people fulfil their potential in life and in work.
“It is essential that the assistance we provide is valuable, that it prepares people for work and life so that they are equipped to make the choices that are right for them. We want to put people in a position to realise their full potential.”
The Institute of Guidance Counsellors (IGC) welcomed the report's recognition of the profession's wide-ranging role in providing both personal and career support to students,
Beatrice Dooley, the IGC's president, said her members would feel affirmed that many of its key recommendations had been taken on board.
Ms Dooley also noted that many schools did not have a qualified guidance counsellor and called for a full reversal of austerity-era cuts, which saw many schools lose provision for guidance counsellors.