How important is parental involvement in careers education and guidance?

We recently interviewed Jayne Thompson about the role of parents and carers in supporting young people with careers education and guidance. 

Jayne is Head of Northern Ireland for Parentkind and advocates strongly for parents being partners in education.

What role do you think parents have in supporting young people’s decision–making?

Parents – right through from cradle to career – are the child’s primary educator and they have superior influence on a child’s decision–making. In terms of advising them about careers, the struggle for parents is their limited knowledge. While they might know a lot about their own job sector, or that of a family member, there is very limited knowledge about general skills deficits and the job opportunities that exist within local communities or within Northern Ireland. They don’t always know the pathways that young people have to take to access these jobs. Neither are parents aware of the full breadth of the curriculum. All of those life skills – resilience, critical thinking etc – parents are not aware of the link between them and the careers they can provide.

On the whole, parents are very ambitious for their children, and they want the best for them. Every parent wants their child to be the best possible version of themselves. There is a risk though that parents can be too ambitious or might not be in tune with children’s individual, academic and other strengths, and how that relates to educational pathways which lead to career progression and to job opportunities that are available locally.

Do you think parents get enough information and advice to be able to effectively support their child’s decision–making?

Absolutely not. Some of our parents recently met with the Department of Education to discuss this and they repeatedly noted that they rely on whatever the teachers or careers advisors say. They don’t know how to challenge this advice or if they should challenge it. This can lead to a tension that not only impacts on young people, but impacts on that all–important home and school relationship.

There isn’t enough support for parents in any shape or form. There is no common language used between parents, schools and careers advisors so those parents who don’t have a deep knowledge of careers struggle. You have parents with the right knowledge or who can at least scaffold the right information and that’s good, but otherwise parents may only be partially–informed.

How well do you think our curriculum helps to prepare young people for employment?

Careers should be a standalone subject, as the Northern Ireland curriculum enables it to be, rather than a bolt–on to another subject. Our curriculum is an excellent one, but it is only as good as our teachers. Careers teachers don’t just need more training but also the space and time to continually investigate and research skills deficits and different pathways. They need the space to continually be in touch with the changing opportunities and pathways through employers and further/third level education.

Starting at 14 is way too far up the chain. We should be bringing careers right back to primary school. I appreciate that could be difficult, so if it could at least be moved back to Year 8 for now. There are some wonderful examples of primary school children getting introduced to careers at an early stage. The ‘Time to Read’ initiative by Business the Community is one example. [‘Time to Read’ enables local business people to attend schools to read on a one–to–one basis with children, both supporting their literacy development and giving them an insight into the world of work.] Children get to know why literacy is so important, and how you use all of these skills on a day–to–day basis in the workplace. That is a very subtle introduction to careers and opportunities at an early age – it doesn’t have to be a case of implementing a huge programme.

Are there any policy changes you would like to see that would increase parents’ involvement in the careers decision–making process?

There needs to be more joined–up working between home, school, third level and FE together so there is clear communication to parents. Then it can be a real community conversation around skills deficits and the educational pathways for young people. Bringing parents into schools to help with subject choices at Year 10 is too late in the day. Parents need to start thinking about that at Year 8, and they need to be able to understand the pathways out of their child’s subject choices.

I also think it would be useful to have more careers conventions that can be attended by both young people and their parents, where you have local businesses with local opportunities. In general there has to be clearer careers advice for both young people and parents – locally in their community and locally in Northern Ireland.


Jayne raises some interesting points about parental involvement, the need for stronger home–school communication and the benefits of earlier provision of careers education and advice. Our current research on education, skills and training opportunities for young people explores these issues by talking to a range of stakeholders, including young people, parents/carers, teachers and employers.


What do you think?

We would be really interested in your views on careers advice and skills and training opportunities for young people aged 14–19.

What do you think is working well?

What would benefit from change?

If you would like to take part in this research project, please contact info@pivotalppf.org.

If you are a young person aged 14–19, a parent of a young person, or a teacher providing careers education and advice, you can also take part in our short online survey.

More Information

  • Date

    Tue 22 Jun
  • Author

    Ann Watt, Director


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