What have you been working on?

The impact of school-based careers talks, with people from outside school, on earnings at age 26.

We analysed data from the British cohort study of 1970 – which covers 17,000 people – to work out whether they had an impact, and, if so, what type of interventions and at what age.

What did you find?

That careers interventions appear to have a real impact on earning potential. For example, pupils who received at least six high-quality careers sessions at age 14-15 – and were in full-time employment at age 26 – were earning the equivalent of £2,000 more than their peers (adjusted to 2016).

To achieve this, the sessions had to be given by someone outside the school and be classified as “very helpful” by the pupils. But there was also an effect for other pupils. For each career talk (whether rated as “helpful” or not) with someone from outside the school at age 14-15, young people benefited from a 0.8 per cent wage premium when they were 26.

The relationship was found for those aged 15-16 only when the career talk was “very helpful”, though, which implies that career talks had a greater value for the younger cohort.

Why are the talks more useful for the younger group?

They were more effective if received in the old fourth form – now year 10 – than in year 11. We hypothesised this could mean they were more receptive at this stage in their education; by fifth form (year 11) they might have been too focused on exams.

How can you prove that it was the careers interventions that produced those results?

First, these findings are statistically significant at 5 per cent, meaning that there is a 95 per cent certainty this correlation did not occur by chance.

Second, we controlled for several variables that are known to have an impact on income in later life, so we were sure to be comparing like for like.

We controlled for parental social class, which is an indicator of disadvantage and financial stability, and for academic ability, which is one of the main drivers of income. We also controlled for home learning environment – how involved parents were in their upbringing, how many times they read books to them, how many times they watched TV, etc; also for gender and ethnicity.

We were unable to control for school type (private versus state) as the data was gathered in 1986 when there was a teachers’ strike and wasn’t reliable. But that’s something we’re looking to examine in the future.

Why is this important?

This study tested whether school engagement with the world of work can help young people transition into employment, and it found a positive relationship.

The wage premiums we found are probably not the result of pupils learning new skills and knowledge (known as human capital) through their career talks. What’s probably happening is that even short talks from professionals provide useful information and networks, which help young people access the required social and cultural capital for smoother transitions from education.

What do you hope the impact will be?

We hope to contribute to the debate about careers interventions in schools. A positive result of this study, given the results, would be that pupils, from an early age, receive lots of high-quality career talks with employers of all kinds, so they can hear first-hand about different jobs, careers and opportunities after school.

The article, which was published in the Journal of Education and Work, can be downloaded at here.