An Investigation of Influences on Career Decisions of High School Graduates: A Follow-Up Study
 
By
Helen Mary Sukovieff
 
SSTA Research Centre Report #90-04: 25 pages, $11
Contents
Introduction 

Questions 

Conclusions 

Recommendations 

References 

Overview

The purpose of this study was to examine how persons (teachers, peers, parents, guidance counselors, administrators, siblings/relatives, and others) and factors (lack of money, work experiences, career education class/materials, own interests, career interest surveys, high school classes, and others) influenced students' career selections. This study also examined the respondents' current employment and/or academic status, whether they perceived that they have attained the goals they set for themselves while in high school, and their feelings of success, related to their educational and occupational choices. The sample consisted of 184 graduates from Regina School Division No. 4, Regina, Saskatchewan and was undertaken approximately two years after the respondents graduated from high school. 

Regarding influencing persons and factors in the respondents' career directions, the following variables had scores significantly higher than a all responses: own interests, mother/female guardian, high school classes, father/male guardian, and work experiences. The following variables had scores significantly lower than -a mean of all responses: principal/vice-principal, guidance counselors, career interest survey, other student(s), and siblings/relatives. 

Introduction

This paper is a summary of the above-mentioned thesis, successfully defended in November 1989. The problem of the study was to determine which persons and what factors influenced students' career decisions and how the influencing has affected the occupational/educational decisions made by students.

Besides studying how certain persons and factors influenced students' career selections, the study examined the respondents' current employment and/or academic status, whether they perceived that they have attained the goals they set for themselves while in high school, and their feelings of success, related to their educational and occupational choices.

The sample consisted of 184 graduates (61.3 percent of those contacted) from Regina School Division No. 4, Regina, Saskatchewan. The study was undertaken approximately two years after the respondents graduated from high school.

The questions examined in this study along with highlights of results are presented. These are followed by the conclusions, discussion, and recommendations for further research.

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Questions

Question 1:

What did 1987 high school graduates of Regina School Division No. 4 perceive to be the relative influences of the following people on their career decisions: teachers, peers, parents, guidance counselors, principal/vice-principal, siblings/relatives and others?

The persons with the highest statistical mean were "others". Only 41 respondents chose this category and most of the 41 had a different response. Examples that were written in for the "other" category were mother-in-law, girlfriend, boyfriend, coach, and optometrist. The respondents in this study did not perceive any of the given choices to be "very influential". In other words, even though the means for parents were higher (3.09 mother/female guardian, 2.93 father/male guardian) than the means for the other persons, they were significantly lower than the mean of 4.44 for the "other" category. The persons who influenced graduates' career decisions, in order from those with "some influence" to those with "very little influence", were parents, teacher(s), siblings/ relatives, peers, guidance counselors) and principal/ vice-principal.

Question 2:

What did 1987 high school graduates of Regina School Division No. 4 perceive to be the relative influences of the following factors on their career decisions: lack of money, work experiences, career education class/materials, own interests, career interest survey, high school classes and others?

 The factor in this study that had the highest statistical mean was "own interests. It also had the lowest standard deviation, indicating much agreement by the respondents on this factor. The factors which influenced graduates' career decisions, in order from those with "some influence" to those with "very little influence", were "own interests", "work experiences", "high school classes", "lack of money", "career education class/materials", and "career interest survey".

A mean was calculated for all responses to the question concerning influencing persons and factors in the respondents' career directions. This mean was compared to the mean of the responses for each of the 13 influencing items given, with results based on a 95 percent level of significance.

The variables with scores significantly higher than the mean were "own interests", "mother/female guardian", "high school classes", "father/male guardian", and "work experiences", in that order.

The variables with no significant difference from the mean were "high school teacher(s)", "career education class/materials", and "lack of money".

The variables with scores significantly lower than the mean were "principal/vice-principal", "guidance counselor(s) 11, "career interest survey", "other student(s)", and "brother(s)/sister(s)/relative(s)

Question 3:

What were the perceptions of 1987 high school graduates of Regina School Division No. 4 as to the extent they have attained or were still working toward the career goal(s) they set while in high school?

Respondents were given some statements that required an answer from 1 to 5 for each, with 1 meaning "Strongly Disagree" and 5 meaning "Strongly Agree". They were asked to respond to the statement "I have now attained the career goal I set for myself while in high school".

When ratings 4 and 5 are combined, 13.7 percent of the respondents agreed to the statement. However, over 60 percent of the respondents scored this question with a rating of 1 or 2, indicating disagreement. This is not surprising as in the discussion of question four, it is noted that almost 65 percent of the respondents are still enrolled in a post-secondary institution.

Respondents were also asked to respond to the statement, "What I am doing now is keeping with the educational or employment plans I made in school". A 1 referred to "Strongly Disagree" and a 5 to "Strongly Agree".

Over 47 percent selected ratings of either 4 or 5, indicating agreement, and 31 percent selected ratings of either 1 or 2, indicating disagreement. In other words, 16 percent more 1987 graduates were following plans made in high school than 1987 graduates who were not following plans. An additional 22 percent chose a rating of 3. An overall higher percentage of graduates (42.4) indicated their mother/female guardian as influential (4 or 5 on the continuum) compared with 40.9 percent of those following plans made in school. An overall higher percentage (27.7) of graduates indicated a lack of money to be influential (4 or 5 on the continuum) compared with 25.2 percent of those following plans made in school. Career interest surveys were rated as influential by 5.5 percent of the respondents overall compared with only 4 percent for those following plans. The correlation seems to suggest that those students who were continuing plans made in high school have been influenced less by outside factors than those students who were not continuing their plans.

Question 4:

What educational institutions were 1987 high school graduates of Regina School Division No. 4 enrolled in since graduation and what occupational/educational activities were these graduates doing approximately two years after graduation?

Results were summarized in the following categories: "working", "working and enrolled in school", "enrolled in school", and "unemployed".

Almost 65 percent of the respondents in this study were enrolled in a post-secondary institution at the time of the study. Another 32 percent were employed and not enrolled in school. A total of 70 percent were employed when those working were combined with those working and enrolled in school only 3.3 percent were unemployed.

The jobs of the 59 respondents who were "working only" and the 69 respondents who were "working along with attending a post-secondary institution" were coded using the latest Canadian Classification and Dictionary of Occupations (CCDO) (1982). The job titles and job descriptions were used to help place the jobs into the four-digit codes. A program called Pineo-Porter, from the Sample Survey and Data Bank Unit of the University of Regina, was used to recode the occupations into the following categories: Military, Employed Professionals, Semi-Professionals, Technicians, Mid-Managers, Supervisors, Skilled Clerical, Skilled Trades, Semi-Skilled Clerical, Semi-Skilled Trades, Unskilled Clerical, Unskilled Labourers, and Athletic Events Supervisors.

Approximately 50 percent of the occupations of the employed respondents from this survey were categorized as semi-skilled clerical. Jobs identified using this classification are tellers, cashiers, file clerks, receptionists, and food servers. Another 16 percent were working as unskilled labourers and examples of jobs that are categorized in this way are truck drivers, service station attendants, and labourers in the construction trade. Because more than half of the employed respondents were working as well as attending a post-secondary institution, it was not surprising to find the majority of workers in categories requiring very little training.

The respondents indicated whether the jobs they held were considered by them to have the potential of satisfying their future career goals. Results revealed that 66 percent of the working respondents were working for "money only". This correlates with the fact that 54 percent of the workers were also attending school. The writer suggests that if people were working and also attending school, they were working to earn money for school.

More than 60 percent of the graduates reported their projection of expected 1989 income to be less than $10,000. Given the fact that 54 percent of the workers were also attending school, it would likely follow that many respondents would have less than $10,000 of expected 1989 income. There were eight individuals earning over $20,000, some working full-time and others reporting that they were involved with the Co-op Work/Study Program at the University of Regina.

Almost 65 percent of the respondents were enrolled in a post-secondary institution at the time of the study. A total of 146 respondents, 79 percent, indicated they were enrolled at some point since graduation from high school. As the respondents in this study were from Regina high schools, it was assumed that the availability of post-secondary institutions helped to explain the large numbers attending post-secondary institutions.

A small number of respondents, 13, had been enrolled in a post-secondary institution but subsequently quit.

The post-secondary institution attended by over 62 percent of the respondents in this study was the University of Regina. Saskatchewan Institute of Applied Science and Technology and "other" post-secondary schools each had approximately 15 percent of 1987 graduates, and 7.5 percent were attending the University of Saskatchewan in Saskatoon. An unpublished study of the High School Liaison Office of the University of Regina (1987) indicated that the factor which was most influential in first-year university students' decisions to study at the University of Regina was the "close to home" factor. It follows, then, that the majority of respondents in this study (graduates from high schools in Regina) would attend the University of Regina.

Question 5:

What were the perceptions of 1987 high school graduates of Regina School Division No. 4 as to their thoughts and feelings about their lives, especially pertaining to their educational and occupational choices?

One of the questions focussing on the students' perceptions of their life was the following:

Think of your life on a ladder for a moment. The ladder has 10 steps. At the bottom of the ladder is a life that is terrible - it has the number zero. At the top of the ladder is a life that is great - it has the number ten. Thinking of your life right now, where on the steps from 0 to 10 would you say your life is?  Respondents were encouraged to be thinking of their life in terms of their education and/or work. They were also invited to respond to a second question which follows: "How has your education and/or occupation contributed to this?"

The comments received for the second question are listed in Appendix G of the thesis, along with the ratings the respondents gave to their life on a ladder. It is most interesting to note the large number of respondents who explained that the reason their step on the ladder was not higher was that they had not yet completed their education.

"Satisfactions with life" depend upon the extent to which individuals find suitable outlets for their abilities, interests, personality traits, and values. They also depend upon the establishment in work situations that is considered appropriate. The respondents in this study have an apparent feeling of satisfaction as the most frequent response was a 7 and the next most frequent response was an 8. The mean rating was 6.8. Additional analysis of the responses from graduates who were continuing the same plans made in school revealed a mean of 7.0, slightly greater than the overall mean. Comments written on the questionnaires, Appendix H of the thesis, support this feeling of satisfaction.

Two statements that related to question five of this study were: "I am pleased with what I see as my future career direction" and "My high school education adequately prepared me for further education and/or the world of work". The rating of 1 refers to "Strongly Disagree" and the rating of 5 refers to "Strongly Agree".

Only 8 percent selected a 1 or 2 ' but almost 60 percent selected a 4 or 5 rating. This reinforced the general feeling of satisfaction apparent in graduates' responses to their level of satisfaction with life.

The graduates' perceptions of their satisfaction levels were not necessarily because they felt adequately prepared. Only 30 percent selected a 4, "Agree", or 5, "Strongly Agree", on the continuum. A slightly higher percentage of the respondents, about 38 percent, selected a 1, "Disagree", or 2, "Strongly Disagree". Almost a third, 32 percent, were undecided.

Respondents were also given the opportunity to share their feelings and levels of satisfaction about any other aspect of their lives. Appendix H of the thesis contains all of the comments received from respondents, typed as they appeared on the questionnaires.

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Conclusions

Conclusion 1. The closer the relationship between graduates and others, the higher the perceived degree of influence on their career decisions.

Question one of this study focussed on the persons who were most influential on the career choices of 1987 high school graduates of Regina School Division No. 4. It is believed that the relationship between young people and parents is probably closer than any other during their first 18 years of life and this writer concludes that this close relationship has much to do with the perceived high level of parental influence on career decisions.

The graduates rated their mother's influence, 3.09, on a scale of 1 to 5, slightly higher than the father's, 2.93. This was very similar to the study by Shadt (1975) who found that graduates' fathers and mothers were each named almost equally as often as being very influential. Mothers were chosen by 41 percent of the graduates and fathers by 40 percent of the graduates as having a great deal of influence. Kotrlik and Harrison (1987) also found the respective parents the most influential persons. Other studies (Mills, 1980, Daniels, 1983, The Pennsylvania Association of Colleges and Universities, 1984, Leifer and Lesser, 1976, Alden and Seiferth, 1979, Lisack, 1975, Drabick, 1967, and Russell, 1980) found that parents were the most influential persons in students' lives.

The High School Liaison Office of the University of Regina conducted a study (unpublished study, 1987) to determine which persons had influenced first-year university students to enroll at the University of Regina. Since 99 percent of the 419 students they studied graduated from high school in 1987, it was determined that many of the students would be the same as those included in this study. A total of 296 respondents indicated that of a list of 11 individuals, parents placed first, second, or third most influential on their choice of enrolling at the University of Regina. Friends were the second most influential persons in their choice.

This study shows that, although families are changing in nature, they were still clearly the most important sources of external influence on graduates' educational and occupational decisions. Traditional career development programs have tended to place only limited emphasis on the connection between family and career. When career planning is viewed as an individual activity, career decisions may be made without an understanding of the interrelationships between the family and the decision maker. However, parents may need and want input in the process of career choice. Frequently, parents may feel inadequate in counseling students about future courses in their lives.

Parents may need assistance in helping their children deal with uncertainty and the challenges that uncertainty offers. The decision-making process is designed, not to eliminate most uncertainties, but to provide means of improving the potential for calculating probabilities of both success and failure. What educators can do to help parents become involved and knowledgeable about the choices their children face is a valid issue for further study.

This study found teachers to be second most influential, next to parents. Drabick (1967) and Lungstrum (1973) also found that the most frequently mentioned extra-familial sources of influence were teachers. This study found teachers to be more influential than the guidance counselor. Kotrlik and Harrison (1987) also found that vocational teachers were more influential than the counselor concerning career decisions. Although, Shadt (1975) reported that teachers were chosen as having a "great deal" of influence by only 15 percent of graduates.

Guidance counselors have access to up-to-date career information. However, they were not perceived by the young people in this study as having an influence on the career choices students were making. Shadt (1975) reported that high school guidance counselors appeared to be performing in a formal advisory role as they were chosen by only 11 percent of graduates as having a "great deal" of influence. Guidance counselors, especially since they do not teach a large number of students in a school, do not have the close relationship that teachers, parents and others enjoy. Therefore, influence from guidance counselors was either forgotten or not perceived as important. Although, they were seen as being slightly more influential (1.78) than the principal/vice-principal (1.37). It is to be expected that since very few students see the principal/vice-principal on a regular basis, that respondents would perceive the administration as not influential to their career decisions. The teachers spend at least l00 hours with students in each course and were perceived as being more influential than the principal/vice-principal and guidance counselors. This writer suggests that further research is needed to determine how the school and its personnel can become more involved with students' career decisions and whether that would be seen as important by graduates.

Conclusion 2. The more influential factors are to graduates' career decisions, the more relevancy these factors contain for the graduates.

Factors, other than persons, that were found to have the most significant influence on the graduates' career selections were their "own interests", "work experiences", and "high school classes", in that order. "Own interests" was scored a mean of 4.52 on a scale of 1 to 5, with 5 meaning "very influential". As students complete their high school years, they realize they must have their own interests outside of school. They develop interests on the basis of their abilities, aptitudes and likes, and these interests become relevant for them. This developmental period is referred to as the realistic period, the last of Ginzberg's three developmental periods (cited in Kroll, et al., 1970, Krumboltz & Hamel, 1982, and Shertzer, 1973). In this period people are able to synthesize an appropriate career plan based on their own personal and situational influences.

There are three stages within the realistic period. Since many of the graduates were still in school and/or in jobs they did not consider permanent, they were probably still in phase one, exploration. However, the high rating of "own interests" indicated that many must have been in the crystallization phase, when a person is fairly clear on a vocational plan. Specification, when a person definitely decides on a career, is the third phase of the realistic period but this may not apply as most of the people in this study were not yet working in their chosen career at the time of the questionnaire. Since the respondents to this survey have indicated their own interests as most influential, it may well be that these individuals were in the realistic period and have been in it long enough that it was difficult for them to think back to the other factors that helped them to be so sure of their career direction.

"Work experiences", which many students receive in high school, and "high school classes" were also relevant and influential. "Career education class/materials" and "lack of money" were relevant and influential to some. "Career interest surveys" were not considered influential and it is concluded that the respondents did not perceive the career interest surveys they were familiar with as relevant.

Engels and Bonk (1980), The Pennsylvania Association 16 of Colleges and Universities (1984), and Drabick (1967) also found students' "own choice" to be the most influential factor in students' career selections. Shadt (1975) reported that the graduates identified themselves (94 percent) as having a "great deal" of influence in their post-secondary school plans.

Kotrlik and Harrison (1987) found the leading factors influencing students in their career selections were "interest in the work", "working conditions", and "salary", in that order. Lisack (1975) also found "activities on the job" and "money" to be the most influencing factors.

Bernstein (1979) found "high school classes", "academic activities", and "work experience" the three most influential factors in students' 'making post-secondary plans. McConner (1982) concluded that "college costs" and the students' "academic preparation" were the two most important factors in student attitude toward choosing to pursue a college education.

In this study the variable of "career interest survey" had the lowest mean of all of the factors. In discussions with guidance counselors in Regina School Division No. 4, it was learned that career interest surveys were administered to all students. Because students did not find them to be influential, further investigation into the use of career interest surveys may need to be done to determine their values.

Conclusion 3. After graduation from high school, the longer (months, years) one is away, the more unrelated is the education or employment to the plans made in high school.

The majority of students in this study (47 percent responded with 4, "Agree", or 5, "Strongly Agree") indicated that they are following plans made in school in response to the statement, "What I am doing now is keeping with the educational or employment plans I made in school". It can be speculated that these respondents are following the plans they made while in high school because they still believe them to be worthy and realistic. Seven percent of those entering post-secondary institutions subsequently dropped out and many others reported in the comment section that they have changed career goals. The writer believes that as the years go by, fewer and fewer students will be engaged in the type of education/work planned in high school.

Dahl (1981) found that the vast majority of high school graduates followed through on their general post-high school plans. He found that graduates who implemented their specific educational plans had significantly higher academic performance in high school than those who enrolled in institutions different than originally planned. Gibbs and Baker (1987) also found a higher percentage of graduates following their plans one year later, 73 percent. Irvin (1982) found that just over half of the graduates were engaged in the type of education (53 percent) and the type of employment (54 percent) planned. overall, however, the correlation between planned and actual activities was less than 50 percent, one year following graduation. This was very similar to the present study which found 47 percent following plans made in high school, two years following graduation.

Most of the graduates, 79 percent, had been or were enrolled in a post-secondary institution since graduating from high school. At the time of the study, almost 65 percent of the respondents were enrolled in a post-secondary institution. In light of this relatively large number of graduates furthering their education, this writer believes that it is imperative to continue stressing preparatory classes for post-high school endeavors. Further study to determine exactly which courses were the most beneficial and what types of courses are lacking in high schools is needed.

Jones, et al. (1986) found that 39 percent of graduates were enrolled in courses four years after high school. Owens (1985) reported 41 percent were enrolled in school three years after high school. Gibbs and Baker (1987) found 42 percent were enrolled in school one year later. Haselton (1985) revealed 58 percent of graduates had entered educational activities six months after graduation. Russell (1978) found that 62 percent of the high school graduates entered post-secondary institutions. Jones, et al. (1986) reported that in total, 78 percent of the graduates studied had attended post-secondary schools, four years after graduating. The study being reported here was carried out two years after graduation. It would be useful to learn whether the students currently enrolled in a post-secondary institution completed their studies and if others who had not enrolled, did so subsequently.

Denesowych (1987) and Picot, Wannell, and Lynd (1987) reported the following relationship between educational attainment and employment: Well-educated people were more likely to have substantially lower unemployment rates than less-educated people. Hoyt, et al. (1977) add that those persons with more education also tend to be unemployed for shorter periods of time. With 79 percent of 1987 graduates furthering their education past high school, the researcher believes that these youth would likely have better labour market experiences in the future than the youth of past years. Denesowych (1987) stated that youth with educational deficiencies or low education levels typically encounter more work-related problems than higher educated youth. Since these problems often continue for the rest of their lives, it is encouraging to see such a large proportion of graduates in this study pursuing concrete plans for their future.

Conclusion 4. Background and/or influences in people's lives determine their levels of satisfaction with life.

In general, the graduates indicated strong feelings of satisfaction with their lives. This became apparent when the researcher studied respondents, perceptions of their life, the results to the question, "I am pleased with my future career direction", and the comments written on the questionnaires and included in Appendices G and H of the thesis. Smalley (1982) and Oginsky (1984) also reported a feeling of satisfaction from alumni.

Students were not asked why they felt-good about their career direction. Therefore, the writer can only speculate as to the reasons. Perhaps it is because the influences from significant persons and specific factors in their lives were valuable contributors to their decision making. Why students are feeling good about their career direction two years later might also be related to the fact that since many respondents were still in school, they haven't actually been realistically involved with their career aspirations. Further study on degree of satisfaction with chosen careers should be done five or more years beyond graduation when the students have had more opportunity to work in their chosen field. Results could be compared with this study to determine differences.

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Recommendations

Recommendations for Further Study

1. Similar studies of influencing persons and factors affecting career decisions needs to be done, taking into consideration factors that were not dealt with in this study such as the rural factor, academic abilities, and socioeconomic backgrounds.

2. Further research designed to examine procedures to enable parents to stay abreast of what is available to their young people is suggested so students have access to the most up-to-date career information.

3. Further research on what students' expectations from guidance counselors are and which guidance programs are currently being used to help with career planning is needed.

4. Further research is suggested in order to help teachers meet expectations of their students and to tailor instructional delivery and course content to students' needs.

5. Continued research needs to be done to ascertain the use and value of career interest surveys to students and to those who use the surveys in counselling students.

6. Investigation on what programs and/or classes students found to be most beneficial in their choice of post-secondary endeavors and what types of courses are lacking in high schools is needed.

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