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Gillian Keegan needs to free the National Careers Service to do its job

Tristram Hooley, Professor of Career Education, University of Derby
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Unemployment is rising, the need for career guidance is greater than ever – £32 million funding must be made more accessible 

Back in early July, Rishi Sunak announced his Plan for Jobs. The idea was to prevent the lockdown turning into a recession, and the furlough turning into a massive increase in unemployment.

One of the key promises was that £32 million would be allocated to the National Careers Service to provide advice and support for workers facing redundancy and unemployment and who found themselves in the position of having to change career or retrain.

Rishi Sunak 100x100As the Chancellor very pithily said…

“The evidence says careers advice works, so we’ll fund it, with an additional £32 million to recruit careers advisers and provide bespoke advice and careers guidance for over a quarter of a million more people.” – Rishi Sunak

Problems with the funding

Flash forward four months and we are in the middle of a second wave. Unemployment is rising and the need for career guidance is greater than ever. But the way that the Plan for Jobs funding has been allocated is making it difficult to actually spend the money earmarked for the National Careers Service and difficult for many adults to access its services.

The National Careers Service is delivered by a range of organisations across the country. Most of these are community-based, not for profits who have been dealing with a lot of change as the pandemic has hit.

Most of their funding is paid by ‘results’ with the results variously being defined as satisfied customers, people developing their careers and finding a job or training outcome. In addition, the National Careers Service is only funded to the full amount for a range of priority groups (e.g. older workers; low skilled adults; single parents and so on) with other clients attracting minimal funding.

It is arguable whether this complex patchwork of funding was ever an appropriate way to fund a National Careers Service, but it leaves a lot to be desired in a pandemic where unemployment is rising and new opportunities are scarce.

Career guidance for the pandemic

Gillian Keegan, as the minister responsible for this area needs to look at career guidance quickly and sort out the mess. The answer is amazingly simple. All she needs to do is amend the funding so that all adults, from 18 until retirement, who are at risk of redundancy or who are currently unemployed, are identified as a priority for the National Careers Service.

If the National Careers Service is made available to all of those who need it, it will be able to make an important contribution to keeping England working. If it is forced to career on with the pre-pandemic funding arrangements still in place there is a big danger that the funding will be wasted and many workers will spend longer unemployed than they need to.

The National Careers Service is a high-quality professional service. It is already in every community in the country. The Chancellor identified it as effective and provided funding to allow it to scale up its activities in the face of a national emergency.

Surely, now is the time when the government should clear away unnecessary bureaucracy and limitations on the service and let it do its job.

Waiting for Gillian

Late last week (22 Oct) a group of Lords, MPs, NGOs, unions and professional associations and employers, educators and careers professionals sent an open letter to Gillian Keegan demanding action on these issues. We asked her to make two simple and common sense changes to the funding arrangements for the National Careers Service.

  1. Ensure that all adults, from 18 until retirement, who are at risk of redundancy or currently unemployed, are identified as a priority for the National Careers Service. The Service’s funding principles need to be changed accordingly.
  2. National Careers Service providers should be allocated a proportion of the new funding upfront to allow them to recruit, train and develop staff to deliver quality services against the new level of demand.

We continue to await a response.

I hope that others will contact her and also raise this critical issue.

Tristram Hooley, Professor of Career Education, University of Derby

Text of the open letter to Gillian Keegan in full

Dear Gillian Keegan

We are writing on behalf of 93 organisations from the worlds of education and employment. We would like to bring several concerns about the current funding arrangements for the National Careers Service to your attention. The provision of support to help people to manage their careers is more important than ever in the current labour market. The signatories to this letter believe that more needs to be done to support people, at all stages of life to build successful careers and make a contribution to the economy.

The National Careers Service delivers high-quality career guidance to adults, helping them to navigate the complexity of education, training, retraining and employment. But, despite the government investing in the Service, restrictions on how the funding can be used may prevent many workers who are facing redundancy or who are currently unemployed from accessing the support they need.

At present, adults aged 25 to 49 who are unemployed for less than one year and young people aged 18 to 24 who are at risk of redundancy are not identified by the government as a priority and this may limit the help that they can expect to receive. Given the current employment crisis brought about by the Covid-19 pandemic, we are asking for these restrictions to be lifted.

The government has launched a range of initiatives to stimulate and support employment through the Plan for Jobs, the Winter Economic Plan and the Lifetime Skills Guarantee. The provision of professional career guidance underpins all of these policies and ensures their effectiveness. People need to understand the opportunities that are available to them and seek advice and guidance about the best route forward within a turbulent labour market.

Thankfully the Chancellor agrees on the importance of career guidance, saying that “the evidence says careers advice works, so we’ll fund it, with an additional £32 million to recruit careers advisers and provide bespoke advice and careers guidance for over a quarter of a million more people.”

This new funding should allow the National Careers Service to increase the overall number of people that it can help by more than half. However, the funding arrangements through which the £32 million is put to use, remain inflexible. They need to be reformed to allow the service to have the maximum impact. Without reform these ambitious targets will not be achieved, which will reflect badly on the government and National Careers Service and leave many unemployed workers unable to access the support they need.

In order to address this, the government needs to review the way in which the National Careers Service is funded and make the following changes:

  • Ensure that all adults, from 18 until retirement, who are at risk of redundancy or currently unemployed, are identified as a priority for the National Careers Service. The Service’s funding principles need to be changed accordingly.
  • National Careers Service providers should be allocated a proportion of the new funding up front to allow them to recruit, train and develop staff to deliver quality services against the new level of demand.

We hope that you will be able to address these issues quickly so that the National Careers Service will be able to deliver the services that are so sorely needed in this challenging economic climate. We would be happy to meet with you to discuss these issues in more detail.

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Yours sincerely

Baroness Garden of Frognal

Lord Aberdare

Lord Knight

Lord Lucas

Lord Storey

Ian Mearns MP

Jan Ellis, Chief Executive, CDI

Kieran Gordon, Executive Director, Careers England

Clare Viney, CEO, CRAC

Dr Robin Mellors-Bourne, Director, CRAC

Professor Tristram Hooley, Professor of Career Education, University of Derby

Dr Siobhan Neary, Head of iCeGS, University of Derby

Elaine Boyes, Executive Director, AGCAS

Samantha Butters & Gina Cicerone, Co-CEO’s, Fair Education Alliance

Dave Prentis, UNISON General Secretary

Alice Barnard, Chief Executive, Edge Foundation

Helen Pain, Acting CEO, Royal Society of Chemistry

Katharine Horler, Chief Executive, Adviza

Dr Deirdre Hughes OBE, Director, dmh associates

Matt Lambert, Chief Executive, FISSS

Becci Newton, Deputy Director, IES

Scott Parkin, Chief Executive, IEP

Nick Newman, CEO, National Careers Week

+336 other signatories

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