The importance of work identities in helping young people develop the skills, qualities and knowledge they need to thrive in life, learning and work
At our recent annual conference Jenny Williams, Chief Executive at ASDAN, contributed to two of the key panel debates. Here she follows up the themes of the day and explores why forming a work identity can play a major part in supporting the development for young people.
When asked what they want to do when they grow up, many young people will naturally struggle to find an answer. Getting to know ourselves – developing a sense of self and exploring and forming our identity – is a major part of being a teenager and considering what we might want to do for a career is just one part of that. But it’s an important part.
Since the middle of the 20th century, academics like Erikson, Marcia and Meeus have looked at the process of identity formation and how this continues throughout life. There’s much I could say about their work, but when speaking on this topic at the recent Whole Education annual conference, I emphasised three key points:
- Identity formation is a key developmental task in adolescence
- Developing a coherent and realistic work identity is key to making a successful transition to adulthood
- There are links between the maturity of work identity in late adolescence and wellbeing
What became clear from our discussions at the Conference is that forming a work identity is vital, whether a student follows an academic or vocational pathway. What was also clear is that those following a vocational pathway – rather than choosing a route through university – should remain as much, if not more, of a focus in this debate, as helping them to flourish is critical to all our futures, both socially and economically.
A strong impact
Figuring out what career you want and how to get there can be quite overwhelming. The good news is that between ages 12 and 21, many young people do progress to form mature work identities. They develop a clear idea of what they want to do, a realistic plan of how to get there, and an understanding of what the occupation could mean for the life they lead.
Evidence suggests that those with mature work identities generally have better mental health by age 21.
However, we also know that the development of work identity is not necessarily linear or universal. It seems that by age 21, having a strong career aspiration but without a clear plan to reach it or an idea of what the career would be like, is no better than having a weak work identity, in terms of wellbeing. For young people without a clear idea of what they want to do, those who are ‘unresolved’ but are actively exploring career ideas and options seem to enjoy better mental health than those who report having ‘no real idea’.
Personal, social and work-related learning are crucial in supporting young people in creating their own work identity and, in turn, forming a clearer vision of who they are and who they want to be.
In my next blog, I’ll be exploring how schools and colleges can best support students at this critical stage in their development.
ASDAN is a strategic partner of Whole Education, and together we look at innovation projects that can support schools to prepare all their young people to thrive in life, learning and work.