From education to employment

Five steps improve career guidance: An agenda for the Education Select Committee

The Education Select Committee has recently launched a new inquiry into career education, information, advice and guidance. For everyone working in the field this is a massive opportunity to address the long-standing issues that exist and to provide young people (and adults) with the help that they need to make transitions and build effective careers.

Since 2008 the UK has had low growth, stagnant wages and poor productivity. The pandemic and Brexit have compounded many of these problems and added in additional turbulence in the labour market. Meanwhile the government is promising people that it will ‘revolutionise post-16 education, reshape the training landscape and help the nation build back better.’ For individuals these conditions are challenging, and many people would like some help in figuring out where they stand. For governments achieving some kind of equitable alignment between the supply and demand for skills and labour has never been more important.

Career guidance is an activity which is directly addressed to this challenge. It helps individuals to make learning choices, to find and keep work and then to manage their working lives as part of their broader lives. It can take many forms including education in the curriculum, one-to-one counselling interventions, experiential learning and the provision of information or online services. Helping individuals to understand how to integrate into society, play a positive role, use their talents and achieve success should be a win-win proposition with benefits variously derived by individuals, communities, businesses and national governments.

Despite this, and despite a range of initiatives in this area the career guidance system in England is fragmented and confused. There are substantial disconnects between the elements that serve adults and those that serve young people. It is also underfunded in comparison with historical and international benchmarks and out of kilter with the level of funding required to deliver on the model imagined by government.

For young people access to career guidance is largely through their education provider. This leads to dangerous gaps for those who are outside of the formal education system. Within schools and colleges, career guidance is based on the Gatsby Benchmarks which are well understood and supported by strong evidence. But, despite the merits of this framework the effectiveness of the system undercut by issues of fragmentation and a lack of capacity. At present the average school is still only meeting half of the Gatsby Benchmarks.

The Education Select Committee need to take action to improve the situation and give England the world class career guidance system it needs. If I were writing the report it argue that we need to take the following five steps.

  1. Build a strategy. The government should publish a national career guidance guarantee for all citizens and support it with a lifelong strategy which reviews existing funding and agencies to look for places where efficiencies could be increased, overlaps removed and gaps plugged. A key part of this strategic approach would be raising the profile of career education and guidance for the population so that people know what they are entitled to.
  2. Plug the gaps. A key aim of the new strategy should be to address the gaps in provision. This would include making sure that career education begins in primary school, that local authorities and the National Careers Service are funded to work with those young people who are outside of the formal education system and that a wider range of adults are entitled to access support. 
  3. Make schools accountable. There also needs to for clear accountability for schools and colleges, which means strengthen the statutory guidance and improving and simplifying quality assurance.
  4. Support good practice. The flip side of making schools accountable is ensuring that they are well supported to deliver good career guidance. They need funding to help them to develop their programmes and all schools need to be in a Careers Hub. They also need access to the resources needed to deliver high quality employer engagement and personal career guidance. The system is underfunded and will not improve with out these new resources.
  5. Professionalise the system. Good career guidance isn’t an accident. It requires trained professionals. We need careers advisers qualified to at least level six, we need careers leaders with access to training and support and we need career education to be a core part of the curriculum in initial teacher education.

Do all of that and we have a shot at offering world class career guidance and really building back better. Ignore it and we accept another decade of frustrated aspirations and wasted talent.

Tristram Hooley is Professor of Career Education at the University of Derby. He writes the Adventures in Career Development blog.

You can make a submission to the Education Select Committee inquiry here.

Professor Tristram Hooley, University of Derby

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