Academic journal article Professional School Counseling

Children's Perceptions of Vocational Preparation Requirements

Academic journal article Professional School Counseling

Children's Perceptions of Vocational Preparation Requirements

Article excerpt

Editor's Note: Several authors cited as references have double last names which are not hyphenated.

Through focused interviews with 119 elementary students, researchers examined children's understanding of vocational preparation requirements for 15 well-known jobs and participants" preferred occupations. Results indicated that, by fifth grade, children have developed the conceptual framework for understanding vocational preparation requirements but are high& inaccurate in their application of the framework to specific occupations. Participants overestimated the need for college as well as their own likelihood of attending. Implications for elementary career guidance programs are presented.


Sweeping economic and social changes during the past several decades have required increasingly higher levels of education for entry into the workforce (Valadez, 1998). The need to compete in a global marketplace--combined with the rapid pace of technological advancement--has made postsecondary education almost a necessity for students entering today's job market (Mau, 1995; Valadez, 1998). This heightened role for postsecondary education is not confined to individual students: An educated workforce is essential to the health of the U.S. economy as well as the achievement of economic and social equity (Hossler & Maple, 1993). In fact, the nation's economic future may depend upon higher levels of educational attainment within those segments of society currently possessing the lowest levels of education (Man).

As a result of the increasing emphasis on postsecondary education, researchers and educators have investigated the factors affecting educational aspirations as well as how to intervene in ways that increase educational attainment--particularly among under-represented groups (Brantlinger, 1992; Dai, 1996; Hawley McWhirter, Larson, & Daniels, 1996; Mahoney & Merritt, 1993; Ramos & Sanchez, 1995). Not surprisingly, much of this research has focused on high school students, who are most obviously engaged in the career decisionmaking process and whose personal, academic, and demographic characteristics are assumed to be the most significant predicators of eventual educational attainment (Dai; Man & Helm Bikos, 2000). Considerably fewer studies have focused on the educational aspirations of younger students, although the existing research suggests that important decisions about educational attainment may be formed in middle school or even earlier.

Hossler and Maple (1993), for example, demonstrated that college goers can be differentiated from undecided students as early as the ninth grade. Because their sample did not include students in lower grades, it is unclear whether this distinction might be possible even earlier. Similarly, Kao and Tienda (1998) determined that students with low aspirations in eighth grade dropped out of high school in disproportionate numbers. The failure to include even younger children in the sample raises the possibility that the deleterious influence of low aspirations may begin prior to middle school. This possibility was supported by Paulson, Coombs, and Richardson (1990), who found that the percentage of 9- to 17-year-old students aspiring to college began to decline between the ages of 11 and 12. Evidence that aspirations are formed even earlier was provided by Cook et al. (1996), who found that race and class differences in the aspirations of second grade boys mirrored race and class differences in adult job holdings.

Regardless of the age level studied, a consistent theme in the existing research is the connection between occupational aspirations and educational aspirations (Cook et al., 1996; Ramos & Sanchez, 1995). In general, researchers have assumed that students who have higher occupational aspirations will, consequently, aspire to greater educational attainment (Man & Helm Bikos, 2000). This assumption is based, in turn, on the presumption that students have an accurate understanding of the education or other vocational training required for specific occupations. …

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