26/02/2012 17:58 GMT | Updated 27/04/2012 06:12 BST

Lack of Career Guidance is Hampering Young People's Future Prospects

Record high youth unemployment statistics have sparked much debate about education today. Universities, vocational qualifications and apprenticeships have been making headlines, with much discussion about their value and the role they play in our society. It's a minefield of confusing and contradictory messages for school leavers and their parents.

Recent research conducted by us here at the AAT has revealed that those between the ages of 16-18 have quite contradictory views on university and more importantly where a degree can lead.

While university education was high on the wish list for 16-18 year olds with 79% saying they still planned to go to university despite the hike in tuition fees, 61% of those surveyed didn't know tuition fees alone could leave them with a debt of up to £27,000 after a three year degree course.

So much emphasis on going to university has meant that the youth of today are restricted in their knowledge and understanding of how best to get into their chosen careers believing firmly that university is a guaranteed route into the professions.

The reality is that the drive to increase participation in higher education has led to young people embarking on a university experience without taking a long hard look at whether it is the right choice for them. Young people need to consider the risk that university may be a costly mistake. Employment and earning prospects vary greatly by university and by course.

The report also revealed that school leavers deem degrees as necessary requirements into the professions with 45% of school leavers believing you need a degree to work in accounting, 36% believing you need a degree to work in the field of engineering and 22% believing you need a degree to work in the IT market.

As much as 16-18 year olds want the university experience, they are aware that the UK economy is suffering with 37% of 16-18 year olds saying their biggest concern for the future would be finding a job. This was closely followed by 25% of 16-18 year olds saying their biggest worry for the future would be having enough money.

Limited careers advice means that young people lack knowledge about the alternative routes into a wide variety of professions. There are highly sought after apprenticeships which bridge the skills gap allowing young people to get on to the career ladder through on the job training whilst gaining the skills employers value.

While the findings from our report may not surprise, it is simply not acceptable that school leavers are making vital choices about their future without fully understanding the consequences of their decisions. Too many young people opt for university as a default option without any knowledge of the return they will get on their investment or any awareness of the alternatives that are open to them.

If things don't change we are not just letting down our young people, we are missing an opportunity to develop the skills so vital to support growth in our economy.