Is careers technology keeping up with young people?

There are many careers that people do not know even exist, so how would they know how to search for them, asks Sharon Walpole

Today, choosing a career path is more complex than ever before. It has never been easier to make the right – or wrong – decision. Young people are caught up in a whirlwind of conflicting advice and though we’re designing technology to help students navigate their options, is it really fit for purpose – or is it just adding to the problem?

Not all young people are ‘digital natives’

It’s often assumed that just because someone is a young person, they’re automatically a ‘digital native’; that they’re all experts in using technology and the internet to research, plan and live their lives more successfully than previous generations. But just because young people have grown up with technology as part of their lives, they don’t necessarily have an innate ability to control it, understand it and use it effectively.

Yes, young people have learned the standard operations of most technology and can transfer that knowledge from one piece of kit to another. But apps like Instagram, Twitter and Snapchat have created a generation that likes its information presented in very small bursts. This means traditional long-form articles struggle to gain attention.

In addition, having taught young people for 10 years, I can guarantee that students do not use the internet voluntarily for research. If they do use tech to research, it’s mainly websites designed by ‘grownups’ with little consideration of the user expectations of young people.

When it comes to research sites, there’s often far too much text on the page and the language is not young-person friendly. Online information should never be dumbed down, but the UX/UI expectations of students are now very different. For young people, old-school type websites just don’t cut it. The problem, in my view, lies with the translation of the information, not the information itself. And this issue also applies to how young people expect to navigate around a site.     

For many websites, this is a minor consideration. But when it comes to websites covering education choices and careers’ advice, these issues can have serious consequences.

University versus apprenticeships

There is very little face-to-face career advice available in schools. Most students have to search online for information about careers, courses, qualifications, UCAS process, clearing options etc. If you’ve ever tried it yourself you’ll know that it’s very difficult and time-consuming to wade through all the search results, and then make a judgement on what’s reliable information and what’s just SEO or spam text.

These days, most information given at schools is around the UCAS process. So there’s plenty of useful information around the process and clearing but little practical support to help students make an informed choice in that pressured environment. And there is still too little understanding and appreciation of the needs of those young people who don’t want to go to university.

Apprentices at UBS told me recently that when the school held an assembly on UCAS, anyone who was not going to Uni was asked to leave and was given no further guidance or support on other options. Most told me they had to search the internet on their own for hours trying to find out about options like apprenticeships. This is a sad state of affairs.

Questioning online information

Many young people who went on to do apprenticeships found their information online. But they were deeply concerned about its reliability. Yes, they found an apprenticeship to apply for and it all sounded great. But how did they know it would really be the right thing for them and they were not just being sold to by a big company? Whenever I’m asked, I always point people to three places: first, the National Apprenticeship Service website that has plenty of video case studies and other information that is reliable. Secondly, where you can search thousands of apprenticeships by type and location, or finally, approach the company you want to work for direct. See if they have apprenticeship schemes and further information on their corporate site, as well.

But what if you don’t know what you’re looking for? There are many careers that people do not know even exist, so how would they know how to search for them? The NotGoingToUni website has an intelligent search engine powered by Elastic Search – this means that, the more time a young person spends on the site, the more the search engine can help pull up relevant content based on the pages visited. So for instance, they may be interested in accountancy, but may not have heard of forensic accounting. The site would pull up those related subjects in the search results.

The future of careers technology

Tech is changing quickly and becoming more convergent and the blurring of the lines between PCs, tablets, laptops and mobile phones will only accelerate. This means that the way we present information must also converge. Websites need to be mobile friendly and adaptable. Apps are no longer just another way to present a website; they are becoming tools, rather than just another way to present information. Apps also are a way to ‘push’ and ‘pull’ information between the originator and the user. As I speak, we are creating an app for NotGoingToUni that will simply ‘push’ relevant types of opportunities based on user preferences.

In my view, everyone working in education technology today has a responsibility to make our tech as accessible, agile and engaging as possible. Young people should not have to spend days trawling the internet to make one of the most important decisions of their lives. Instead, they should be able to find their perfect career choice in 30 minutes and know that it was the best decision they ever made.

Sharon Walpole is CEO, Walpole Media Group