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Career guidance: A strategy to support girls’ participation in STEM-related TVET

November 2022

Career guidance plays an important role in supporting girls' participation in Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) by providing them with the information and resources they need to pursue a STEM career via employment or entrepreneurship pathways. Career choice is undeniably one of the most critical decisions a trainee makes in life. A career should be chosen with attention, thought and planning as individuals have different innate capacities and abilities and therefore, aptitudes for a variety of career paths. Career guidance not only allows a TVET trainee to acquire the most suitable knowledge and skills for a career, but also an understanding of how to use them for lifelong learning and career growth.

“Prioritizing TVET trainers’ and instructors’ development in delivering career guidance is an important part of UNESCO-UNEVOC’s work to achieve SDG 4 targets on increasing access to affordable and quality TVET, especially in the post-COVID-19 recovery phase where unemployed youth are looking to re-enter changed job markets”, says Priscilla Gatonye, Inclusion and Youth lead at UNESCO-UNEVOC.

Delivering career guidance for women and girls in STEM-related TVET

In October 2022, UNESCO-UNEVOC supported 52 TVET trainers and managers from 22 TVET institutions in Africa (Ghana, Madagascar, Nigeria, South Africa, Tanzania and Uganda) and Latin America and the Caribbean (Chile, Colombia, Cuba, Grenada, Jamaica, Mexico, Paraguay and Peru), to deliver post-pandemic career guidance with a focus on STEM-related TVET and careers for young women and girls.

The programme was built on a conceptual framework focusing on increasing participation, completion, and progression of young women and girls in STEM TVET into the workforce. It sought to mitigate the barriers faced by girls in STEM, as analysed in the 2020 UNESCO-UNEVOC publication on Boosting gender equality in science and technology. Specifically, participants gained an understanding of delivering career education and explored various frameworks and toolkits, including a twin-track approach in creating need specific empowerment and mainstreaming strategies; medicine-wheel approach to learner support; bottom-up participatory approach to career guidance that involves working with local communities, trainers, learners, parents, industry, etc.; and effective mentorship frameworks and engagements to foster industry partnerships.

“An increase in the participation of young women and girls in STEM-related TVET will result in increased female labour force participation, which supports the economic empowerment of women and contributes to efforts in reaching gender equity and equality”, Ms Gatonye emphasizes.

During the trainings, participants engaged actively in sessions from which they summarized that the role of career guidance is to inform, empower and give confidence in the ability of girls to pursue STEM careers; solve students’ challenges/problems; clarify misconceptions; provide emotional and educational support; and increase the scope of choosing careers outside the areas students would ordinarily gravitate towards. A participant also added an important aspect on navigating gender-based violence (GBV) in the workplace and mentioned that “career education and counselling prepares girls to elevate themselves and avoid exploitation such as sexual exploitation and abuse at work”.

Other suggestions from participants covered the importance of working with industry, mentioning that career information must be paired with opportunities. Participants also pointed out the need to bridge the generational differences between the teachers and Gen Z and Alpha students, the need to create targeted STEM interventions for women and girls early on in education and requested that governments update their respective lists of “in-demand skills” in their labour market information systems.

Career guidance in industry

To close the training modules, a panel session was hosted to discuss practical applications to foster career guidance in TVET and in the workplace. The experts acknowledged the challenges girls face such as lack of knowledge of different careers, mentioning that many are pigeonholed into “female” careers such as teaching and nursing. Societal expectation for women and girls to be above average in order to be considered adequate was also discussed as a key challenge as well as a lack of enough gender-specific groups/clubs/events.

Participants also highlighted successful interventions in career guidance practice such as the availability of scholarships for girls in STEM; the inclusion of female role models and instructors in training delivery; peer mentoring; offering alternative learning pathways such as online learning and part-time studies; inclusive industrial tools and technologies in the workplace; societal support; and a shift in traditional views of women in the workforce. In addition, the panellists advised TVET practitioners to incorporate different kinds of mentoring practices, such as hard skills vs soft skills and career path vs technical training, adding various mentors from those supporting students with networking and getting more exposure to those working in industry.

In conclusion, career guidance can be offered at all stages of a student’s journey and leveraging mentorship can create advancement in alumni relations, community engagement, and student-to-student support. The goal of this programme and the outcomes it achieved can help both formal and informal TVET instructors to support the overall well-being and inclusion of young women and girls in STEM-related TVET but only when the principles, tools, and learnings gained are applied.

For further information, please contact the Inclusion and Youth team at unevoc.inclusion(at)unesco.org.

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