When should children start to think about their careers?

A key rationale for starting career education early is drawn from evidence which shows that young people form their aspirations and ideas about careers long before they are ready to join the labour market. Research by American psychologists Ashton Trice and Kimberly Rush found that four-year olds typically articulated a strong gender bias in their thinking about jobs, with boys tending to express interest in typically male occupations and girls in typically female occupations. Research led by Vanessa Moulton at the Institute of Education found that most seven-year-olds had “realistic” rather than “fantasy” aspirations – for example, they want to be a police officer rather than a dragon. They also found that children’s aspirations had a relationship with their classroom behaviour. In the 1980s, US psychologist Linda Gottfredson theorised about the process of identity formation, arguing that young people typically go through a series of age-related stages during which they, often unconsciously, shape their occupational aspirations in relation to social expectations. She argued that much of this process has occurred before young people reach secondary school. In a series of articles, King’s College London education researcher Louise Archer and her colleagues have explored young people’s attitudes to science and science careers. They’ve demonstrated that identity is formed early and that it typically intersects with gender, ethnicity and class in ways that do not support the government’s policy aspirations for social mobility. The rationale for starting career education in primary school is therefore strong. If young people’s aspirations are to be broadened, this needs to happen at the point at which they are developing these aspirations. This is not new to scholars of career education and guidance who typically pronounce that career education should start early and be in place well before young people have to make any decisions with lifetime impacts.