Career guidance in secondary education has the potential to play a role in several related areas of government policy, including: youth unemployment prevention or re-engagement; education course choices, transitions, and motivation; skill shortages, regional economic development, and labour mobility; lifelong learning, mental health, and wellbeing.
Experts have long identified a need for a more robust, quantitative understanding of medium-term and long-term benefits, to engage policymakers and gain adequate funding for career guidance. Some government officials, particularly those responding to pressure from finance ministries, further request that the economic impact be monetised and contrasted against costs, to support analysis such as return on investment (ROI). This can be challenging because school-based career guidance often, and especially in England, refers to a diverse range of interventions that are small scale compared to the curriculum as a whole, theorised to have correspondingly modest average effects that can be hard to isolate statistically. Nonetheless, small effects from low-cost interventions can still translate into attractive policies from an ROI perspective.
This critical appraisal reviews the contributions and limitations of a selection of the author’s work from 2008 to 2022 in improving our understanding of the economic impact of career guidance in secondary education, drawing primarily on new empirical work in Great Britain and the international literature. The corpus is grouped into three themes:
(i) Measuring impact: strengthening the quantitative evidence base for the medium-term impact of career guidance on education progression or labour market outcomes, drawing on historical longitudinal surveys, school-level data, administrative data, and contemporary surveys of young adults.
(ii) Monetising impact: applying a pragmatic ROI estimation framework to personal guidance conversations for students in English secondary education. The methodology, well-suited to interventions with few large-scale evaluations, was then re-applied and extended in a study for Careers Wales which addressed school-age and adult career guidance, the latter selected for a Cedefop collection which sets out a formalisation of this “linked ROI” methodology.
(iii) Interpreting impact: exploring particular limitations and nuances of this evidence and the ROI method as applied to date, such that results might be appropriately used by policymakers, sector leaders, and the research community.
A broad range of career guidance activities are in scope, reflecting The Gatsby Benchmarks framework, which became government policy in England at end 2017. Example quantitative insights from the corpus include 0.8% higher average earnings for those in full-time employment associated with each extra career talk received aged 14-15 and an estimated 4.4x fiscal ROI for the provision of two personal guidance interviews. A future research agenda is outlined to enhance the breadth and usefulness of available evidence and ROI analyses.
A synthesis view of these contributions identifies a future opportunity to adopt a stronger systems perspective. Such an approach would address key limitations in the corpus: the limited statistical accounting for causality and displacement and the limited consideration of systemic factors, specific mechanisms, and innovative, future-focused approaches to guidance.