Publication - Research and analysis

Young people's experience of education and training

Published: 28 Sep 2017

Report on young people's experience of their learner journey from the age of 15-24 years.

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Young people's experience of education and training
6. Key findings: Influences

6. Key findings: Influences

6.1 Chapter summary

  • Parents are key influencers on young people's career choices and learner journeys, both directly and indirectly.
  • For disengaged young people with unstable family backgrounds, grandparents can be a positive and stabilising influence.
  • Friends were also found to have a strong influence on young people's learner journeys, particularly those that were pursuing apprenticeships or other types of training.
  • Young people's learner journeys are often influenced by personal and social issues, such as their own and family member's health problems, economic drivers (a need to earn money) and the skills and confidence gained through sports and other hobbies.
  • Careers advisers were found to have had most influence on young people who were disengaged or at risk of disengagement.
  • Most workshops participants said they would have liked more contact with a careers adviser whilst at school, particularly to help with subject choices.
  • Work experience can have a profound impact on career choices, but young people report limited opportunities to access good quality placements.


6.2 Young people's learner journeys were found to be influenced by a wide range of factors, though often not related directly to their education and learning. This chapter reports on the key influences cited by workshop participants covering family and friends, personal and social issues, careers advice, work experience and tailored support.

Family and friends

Parents are key influencers on young people's career choices and learner journeys.

6.3 Almost all of the young people who participated in the workshops referenced the influence of family, and parents in particular, on their learner journeys. In some cases, this was indirect – parents were not telling them what to do, but they had decided to follow a similar career path to them. In others, parents exerted a much more direct influence on young people's choices by advising them to pursue particular pathways.

"I want to follow in my father's footsteps and pursue a career in joinery." David, aged 19.

"I would like to work in the prison service, as my mother has worked there all her life and it is a good job." Emma, aged 19.

"My family pushed me to learn subjects that would help the family business." David, aged 16.

"My Dad told me to join this course." Andrew, aged 16.

"My parents are pushing me to go to university." Sarah, aged 16.

For young people from unstable family backgrounds, grandparents can often be a positive and stabilising influence.

6.4 Several workshop participants referenced the important role that grandparents had played in their lives. They were often viewed as a positive and stabilising influence, particularly for those who were dealing with issues and challenges in their wider family. Several young people cited the support and encouragement provided by grandparents as being critical to helping them get through difficult times and progress to the next stage in their learner journey.

"The main person that influenced me was my Nana. She always supported me and when she passed away I wanted to show her that I could do what she always believed I could." Niamh, aged 16.

"When I started secondary school, I was having a very difficult time. My parent had attempted suicide multiple times. I had no idea how to cope with this but my Gran, the wonderful lady that she is, did what she does best and got me through it. The journey has been tough, but I have survived and now I have a place at university and a new start to look forward to all thanks to my Gran." Anon, aged 17.

Friends were found to have a strong influence on young people's learner journeys, particularly those who were pursuing apprenticeships or other types of training.

6.5 As referenced in previous chapters, a recurring theme in the workshops was the lack of advice and guidance available to young people on technical and vocational career pathways. Workshop participants who had pursued these routes often heard about opportunities through friends, rather than through school, careers advisers or employment support services.

"I was influenced by my friends who were doing apprenticeships who said that it was better to work and get paid than pay to go and study." Mark, aged 22.

"I joined this course because some of my friends had been on it and told me about it." Joe, aged 16.

"I was told about this course by a couple of friends who had been referred and I have been here for a few months. It has helped me gain experience and confidence. My time keeping and attendance has improved a lot since I started here." Megan, aged 17.

"My friend told me about this course and here I am 10 weeks later. I have gained experience, which will be really good for my CV, as well as a good reference." Ray, aged 18.

6.6 The influence of friends was most pronounced for some of the young people who reported themselves as more disengaged, who appeared less inclined to take on board advice from schools, support services or teachers. Family members, including parents, also tended to be referenced less frequently by this group.

Personal and social issues

Young people's career choices are often influenced by personal experiences.

6.7 When asked why they had chosen particular career paths, many of the workshop participants cited personal experiences. This often related to their own or family members' health issues, which led several to pursue careers in caring professions. Others referenced life changes, such as moving house, as having had a major impact.

"Moving to Scotland from Melbourne impacted me greatly. I began to evaluate which jobs were in demand there to enable me to move back. This has made my subject choices much easier. Moving helped me to understand that life changes and not to take anything for granted. It has helped me mature in my thinking processes." James, aged 15.

"When I was 9 years old, my twin sisters were born prematurely and were very unwell. They needed heart operations at one month old and constant medical care during the first few years of their lives. This had a big impact on my family and influenced my decision to pursue a career in childcare." Ashleigh, aged 20.

"The issues and challenges experienced by my cousin as they transitioned from female to male and my sister as she battled anorexia nervosa has made me want to pursue a career in paediatric mental health." Molly, aged 20.

"The mental health issues experienced by my family and I has made me want to pursue a career in psychology." Kyle, aged 17.

Money has a major influence on many young people's learner journeys.

6.8 For many young people, learning and employment decisions are based on economic need. For example, several workshop participants said that they had decided to say on at school in order to qualify for Education Maintenance Allowance ( EMA). Others reported that they were unable to pursue particular pathways as they could not afford the course fees. For many, it is a balancing act between pursuing long-term career aspirations through further education and training and having enough money to live.

"I wanted to become a dental nurse, but needed more science qualifications and so I did an Introduction to Applied Science at college. I passed and then applied for the Diploma in Dental Nursing. I was accepted, but could not afford the course fees. I am now working full-time in Morrison's and attempting to pursue a career as a therapist through volunteering in a community learning centre." Karen, aged 24.

"In addition to my full-time MA in childcare, I had to take two part-time jobs just to have enough money to live and run a car. It was all too much and I ended up in hospital with exhaustion." Caitlin, aged 20.

Sport was found to have a strong and positive influence on many young men's lives and learner journeys.

6.9 When asked to describe key influences on their learner journeys, many of the young men that participated in the workshops referenced the role of sport and their coaches / team mates in building confidence, leadership and teamwork skills and reducing stress.

"Football coaches can give very good advice, both on and off the field." Buisty, aged 17.

"Captaining the school rugby team and volunteering as a rugby coach has helped me with leadership skills, planning, decision making and confidence." Rowan, aged 17.

"I enjoy fishing and once won a prize and got my picture in a magazine. This was good for my self-esteem. I enjoy the exercise and being outdoors. It helps when I'm stressed as it is out of the way and quiet." Jack, aged 17.

"Kickboxing is a good way to help me de-stress and has helped me calm down." Conner, aged 20.

6.10 Most of the examples of where sport was having a positive effect related to young men who said they were at risk of disengagement from education and learning, suggesting that programmes that incorporate some level of sport can be a successful route to engaging this group and maintaining their interest.

Careers advisers and teachers

Careers advisers were found to have had most influence on young people who were disengaged or at risk of disengagement.

6.11 Young people's reported experience of career guidance within schools was highly variable. Some reported having never seen or spoken to a careers adviser, whilst others had regular contact with them throughout school and also after they left. Most workshops participants reported that they would have liked more contact with a careers adviser whilst at school, particularly to help with subject choices.

6.12 There was a perception amongst some of the younger workshop participants that careers advisers targeted those who did not know what they wanted to do after school, or who were at risk of leaving school with nothing to go to. Careers advisers and guidance teachers were referenced more often by young people who were disengaged or who had left school early. Several said that their careers adviser had called them up regularly after they had left school to find out what they were doing, and there was one example of where an adviser had showed up at the young person's house and encouraged them to enrol on an employability programme.

"I had a tough time in high school, but some of the teachers were a good influence. I always felt I didn't fit in and was diagnosed with anxiety. I left school before summer 2015 and started to feel better after being depressed about school. With the help of my careers adviser, I was introduced to the Activity Agreement. This has helped me greatly and taught me that I matter." Ryan, aged 18.

6.13 Guidance teachers were reported as having an equal if not greater influence on young people's choices than careers advisers. They were also cited as being a source of references for college and university applications. Subject teachers were reported to have limited knowledge of further education or employment opportunities, even within their subject areas.

"School teachers didn't have much of an idea about further education. It would have been good have some people from outside the school coming in to talk about this." Emma, aged 22.

"My favourite subject at school was admin. I left school at the end of fifth year to do a Business Admin Apprenticeship. I didn't enjoy it and so I left and attended a Modern Apprenticeship event. I realised then that it was childcare that I wanted to do. I completed a pre-apprenticeship before starting the main apprenticeship and am now in my second year. It would have been good to get more information about different types of apprenticeships that are available when I was in school." Jodi, aged 18.

Career guidance works well for those who know what they want to do, but is less effective for those who are not sure or are looking to pursue opportunities in new and emerging industries.

6.14 The careers advice available in schools was reported to be helpful for those who knew what they wanted to do and were looking to work in traditional occupations, such as doctors, lawyers, accountants and tradesmen ( i.e. vocational occupations). In these cases, the pathways are clearly articulated and relatively easy to navigate. However, this is not the case for most other industries and occupations, particularly in relatively new and emerging sectors such as life sciences, digital and IT, where the pathways are much less well articulated and can be difficult to navigate. Young people reported limited exposure and guidance on different career pathways available to them after school.

"It's all very well having help to fill out your university application, but you need help deciding what to do." Emma, aged 21.

"There is a lack of advice and support for progressing to further / higher education. It feels very rushed and that you need to go to university to succeed." Christian, aged 17.

The career pathways suggested to young people are mainly based on their academic performance, with minimal consideration of wider factors.

6.15 The advice given to young people about potential career pathways and destinations for after they leave school was felt to be too narrowly focussed on academic performance, rather than the types of jobs they wanted to do, their personal interests or wider factors, such as how well equipped they are to live on their own. This was felt to be compounded by the fact that most university and college applications are assessed based on grades alone, with no requirement to attend an interview.

Emmie, aged 24, University student

Emmie always did well at school and was known for her interest in politics. She had good enough grades to get in to university and so went to study politics at Glasgow University. She did not really think much about this decision; this was what she had always expected of herself and what others expected of her too. However, Emmie soon discovered that she was unhappy on the course and was struggling to cope with living independently. She dropped out of the course during the first semester. After taking some time out to think about what she wanted to do, she decided to pursue a career in youth work.

Work experience

Work experience can have a profound impact on career choices, but young people report limited opportunities to access good quality placements.

6.16 Most of the young people that participated in the workshops reported having had limited or no work experience opportunities whilst at school, college or university. Those who did work experience often had to organise the placements themselves, a process that disadvantages those who do not have access to employer contacts and networks. Others reported that placements had to be arranged through automated online booking systems with no opportunity to discuss options with an adviser. Options were reported as often limited to one week with a local employer.

6.17 Those who did get work experience benefits reported significant benefits from this in terms of informing their career choices. Often they thought they had an idea about what it was like to work in a particular occupation or industry and the work experience placement sometimes confirmed or sometimes refuted this. There were several examples of where young people had completely changed their minds about a particular career based on their experience and others where it had reaffirmed their commitment.

Tailored support

Intense and tailored support works well for disengaged groups.

6.18 Several of the young people who participated in the workshops reported that they had previously been disengaged from education and learning after having left school early with no plan for what they were going to do next. Most reported that they were now feeling much more confident and optimistic about the future. This turnaround was often attributed to the individualised and tailored support provided through targeted employability programmes or youth workers.

"I joined the Activity Agreement and have become much better at working in groups and more open. The residential part of the course has helped with this. They were flexible around me being a full-time carer for my Grandma and provided a lot of support when she passed away." Sophie, aged 19.

"I joined the Activity Agreement, met new people and spoke about my problems and how to be better. This helped me to find out what I'm good at and got me into college." Ryan, aged 18.

"I was at rock bottom. I would still be there if it wasn't for the team. They helped me to see that it wasn't too late. That I could still improve my life." Gordon, aged 24.

"I owe a lot to the LGBT centre and the Young Carers Centre for helping me to overcome the obstacles that I have faced." Anon, aged 17.

"I wouldn't have gotten to where I am now if it wasn't for the support, motivation and inspiration they have shown me. It has been amazing. They have moulded me into the person I am today." Josh, aged17.


Email: Lorraine Forrester,

Phone: 0300 244 4000 – Central Enquiry Unit

The Scottish Government
St Andrew's House
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