Career Education

The use of the term career education varies across both time and context. In its broadest sense the term refers to educational activities in formal and tertiary education contexts, which aim to foster and enhance learners’ knowledge, skills, attitudes, and values related to occupations and the concept of career development over the life span. In the United States, the term has tended to be superseded by curricular school-to-work programs, whereas in the United Kingdom, the term career support is often used for career-related activities facilitated by educators. In countries with outcomes-based approaches to education, career education may be incorporated into life skills-based syllabi rather than viewed as a separate strand in the curriculum. Where learner centeredness underpins educational practice, developmentally and contextually sensitive approaches to career education may be promoted.

Programs may be provided by mainstream educators or led by institutionally based careers advisors, or they may be provided by external agencies contracted for the task (depending on the resources available). Where educators have little specialized training in career theory or practice, consultants may be required to design programs and train practitioners. In some contexts, career education practice may be viewed as ancillary to mainstream education, but agencies providing it may be overstretched and subject to financial constraints. An increasing number of theorists have called for holistically planned programs that are integrated into the curriculum.

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Key considerations in the provision of career education, including school-to-work programs, are explicit planning, a focus on the learner’s life stage, the concept of work to be employed, an approach that is sensitive and responsive to the local context, and the development of transferable skills that support lifelong learning. These considerations are rooted in both developmental and situational perspectives and focus on the many competences and attitudes that support decision making and transitions into and between work roles. Although in the second half of the 20th century career education may have been predominantly didactic in nature, recent shifts have emphasized learners’ constructions and narrative accounts of their experiences.

The rapidly changing world of work at the beginning of the 21st century poses challenges for providers of career education. Accelerating technological change and the influence of global economic forces have resulted in people needing to respond to changes in the world of work in unprecedented ways. The stability and predictability of industrial era career paths no longer exist, and people are expected to be much more adaptable and flexible. New forms of careers need to be considered, including the increasing independence from organizational structures.

The foundations of career knowledge and the skills of planning and decision making should be laid in schools. Educators need to have a greater awareness of their role in preparing learners for the working world. Thus, classroom activities that make links with work, workplace visits, and different types of work experience are being integrated into the mainstream. There are also increasing calls for career education to be provided to adults in the context of lifelong learning and continuing education.

Career education is particularly relevant in the exploration stage of an individual’s career development. This occurs initially in adolescence, but may continue during the process of engagement in the world of work as a young adult. It may also occur when voluntarily changing jobs or career direction or when the individual is forced into exploration owing to retrenchment or the need for retraining.

Four major aspects of careers education have been identified:

  1. developing self-awareness through understanding individual attributes, interests, dispositions, ideals, and values that impact on career aspirations;
  2. fostering knowledge about opportunities available to learners through information gathering on the spectrum of potential occupations, about the impacts of different types of work on lifestyle, and about ways to access information;
  3. building explicit awareness of styles of and skills related to decision making; and
  4. coping skills for life-span transitions (e.g., school to work, work to unemployment, into continued education, changes in the workplace, reentry into the job market).

Curricular aspects of career education include a body of knowledge that needs to be accessed, skills that can be practiced, and a philosophy and values that warrant attention and discussion. Career education should also be integrated into adult education and extended to the work of labor and trade union organizations, as well as to the fields of training and personnel development.

Career education is concerned with preparing the person for the choices and transitions that life presents. One of the major challenges faced by providers of career education relates to the readiness for and motivation of learners. Concepts such as career maturity and career decision making have relevance, and it is important for the provider to investigate the degree of fit between envisaged activities and the individuals for whom these are designed. Career education must be planned to enable learners to develop skills to cope with the information overload, uncertainty, confusion, and challenges to the individual’s sense of identity that may characterize experiences of postindustrial life.


  1. Gibson, R. L., & Mitchell, M. H. (2007). Introduction to counseling and guidance (7th ed.). Upper Saddle River, NJ: Prentice Hall.
  2. Irving, B. A., & Beatriz, M. (2005). Critical reflections on career education and guidance: Promoting social justice within a global economy. London: Routledge.
  3. Law, B. (1996). Careers education in a curriculum. In A. G. Watts, B. Law, J. Killeen, J. M. Kidd, & R. Hawthorne (Eds.), Rethinking careers education and guidance: Theory, policy and practice (pp. 210-232). London: Routledge.
  4. McWhirter, E. H., Rasheed, S., & Crothers, M. (2000). The effects of high school career education on social-cognitive variables. Journal of Counseling Psychology, 47(3), 330-341.

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