‘Parents don’t necessarily know what to do and they make big mistakes because they’re human, like you.’

Having discussed many topics relating to the opportunities available to young people with Karen Vaughan, Chief Researcher at NZCER, I was also keen to hear more about her own work as well as her own perspective on the Ambition Question.

Karen’s team is currently leading a project, Knowing Practice, which seeks to understand the progression for young people (mostly aged 18-30) as they grow into professional practitioners in engineering, building and medicine. The project is currently funded until the end of 2014.

Previously, Karen had a central role in a long-term study that sought to map and monitor young adults from the age of 5 up to 25, looking to understand career pathways and trajectories. A long-term study of this nature, involving regular interval monitoring points has created a vast amount of data – far too vast to effectively cover in a short article like this. Reviewing the most recent report though – that details the team’s findings following interviews with the participants, now 20, highlights a number of findings particularly relevant to this project:

(1) the majority of young people are still involved in some kind of study after leaving school (which may be part-time alongside a job);
(2) Many people – and certainly those who secured good qualifications found the transition from school easy whereas those who left school before they turned 17 were most likely to say no-one had given them useful advice to help them decide what to do post-school. A third of the young people could not recall any specific careers-related initiative at school;
(3) Major regret about what they had done since they left school was voiced by 40 percent of those without a qualification, often to do with some aspect of study, such as a poor choice, or not persisting with study;
(4) All but a few of the 401 young adults thought they would need to undertake further study towards a qualification in their adult life. Many saw such further study as a way to keep gaining new knowledge and skills;
(5) An ideal job for most of the young adults would be connected to their interests, allow promotion and build a lifelong career. It would allow a balanced life: time for family, and for leisure or voluntary activities; and provide a high salary. It would allow creativity and teamwork.


With a strong academic interest and considerable professional expertise in this area what were Karen’s reflections on her own career trajectory? What does she think of Wellington, which she now calls home?

‘As well as an educational researcher I am a keen motorcyclist and part-time hobby carpenter with a very privileged day job that allows me to be curious about learning, especially in different workplaces. I moved to Wellington from Auckland in 2001 and fell completely head over heels for Wellington’s urban vibrance, exciting landscape, dramatic weather, and the quirky humour of the local population.

When I was younger I wanted to be a writer and an actor. It’s what I do a version of in my job now. My advice to my 16-year-old self? Parents don’t necessarily know what to do and they make big mistakes because they’re human, like you. Don’t spend too much time dwelling on it – either by letting it limit you, or by rebelling beyond your real values.’


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