Factors that can raise or limit educational and occupational aspiration among young people

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From a very early age, children are asked what they want to be when they grow up. The answers they give are often linked to the types of jobs they are exposed to. From the role models in their lives, to what they see on television, and even the toys and games they play with. As they get older, young people begin to formulate beliefs about how good they are in various subject areas and the skills they possess. Becoming more aware of their strengths and abilities, ultimately results in the development of more attainable and realistic goals. Several factors can influence a young person during this process. Although some of these factors like gender, race and social class are not variables that can be controlled, we cannot ignore the disadvantages that certain groups of young people face. This article explores why and how some of the more controllable factors, in particular support by schools and mentoring, can impact young people’s aspirations.

Schools aim to provide career advice and guidance to students, particularly those in Key Stage 4. With teachers prioritising results, however, there is not a lot of room in the curriculum left for discussing the future. As a result, young people can be left without the relevant information needed to make decisions about careers and university. One of the concerns about discussing careers and university at Key Stage 4 is that young people will not have the necessary knowledge about entry requirements to make important choices like picking the right GCSEs when in year 9. This, as a result, means that young people can be restricted in the decision making process further into their educational career. Not doing well in a subject or not having chosen a subject needed to pursue a career choice, leaves a young person in a position where they are only able to choose between the limited pathways that are presented to them. Schools could, and should, do more.

Another important factor is the role of mentors. With the knowledge and experience mentors possess, young people can be supported in the understanding of various career routes and the entry requirements. A successful mentoring relationship consists of encouragement and support of a young person’s career aspirations by providing advice and opportunities. Additionally, mentors can also provide fundamental help in building the key skills needed in those careers for example development in writing, researching, and critical thinking. Another way in which a mentor can support a young person is through providing work experience and networking opportunities.

Having a regular mentor and forming a solid relationship enables young people to become more open about their passions and strengths. With the support of a mentor, these skills and hobbies can be formulated into real-life aspirations. The knowledge and experience these professionals possess can help to guide and inform young people about what subject, grades, and experience they need to enter certain fields and university courses. Another large aspect of mentoring is helping young people in their character development, which includes confidence. Being surrounded by successful professionals will inevitably increase a young person’s scope of what they deem possible.

Mentoring has been recognised as a fundamental way of tackling most of the problems that restrict young people’s aspirations, for example, the lack of knowledge, confidence and work experience. It has been found that young people who are supported by a mentor had an increase in self-confidence and a positive attitude towards learning (Linnehan, 2003). This is particularly the case when the young person can see their mentor as someone who shares some of their life experiences.

Having aspirations, both educational and occupational, ensures that young people are making decisions that warrant their place in society as model citizens. By understanding the factors discussed above, and better yet being able to influence them, schools and parents can help young people make the best choices for them.


Butler, T., Hamnett, C., Mir, S. and Ramsden, M. (2011). Ethnicity, class and aspiration. Bristol, U.K: Policy Press, pp.91-104.

Jodl, K., Michael, A., Malanchuk, O., Eccles, J. and Sameroff, A. (2001). Parents’ Roles in Shaping Early Adolescents’ Occupational Aspirations. Child Development, [online] 72(4), pp.1247-1266.

Linnehan, F. (2003). A longitudinal study of work-based, adult-youth mentoring. Journal of Vocatonal Behaviour, 63, 40—54.

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