From education to employment

Investing in Careers and Decent Work: A Crucial Step Towards Building an Inclusive Society

Dr Deirdre Hughes OBE, UK, EU and International careers policy, research and practice specialist


Amid a worsening public sector crisis and significant skills shortages across key sectors in the UK, hopes of many professions and organisations rested on today’s announcements by the Chancellor. Within the budget, only 8 specific mentions of skills were made. Examples include ensuring the NHS workforce has the necessary skills to train an additional 6,000 midwives and double the number of clinical staff. Additionally, there is a plan to double the size of the AI incubator team to attract top technology professionals to enhance public sector and AI services. Moreover, £3m is committed to matching industry-led funding for a skills and education program to attract more people to roles as local planners in planning authorities. Finally, tax-deductibility of training and skills development costs for sole traders and the self-employed was also mentioned.

It’s imperative to acknowledge the tireless efforts of career advisers and teachers who, despite many daunting challenges, persist in offering vital career support to young people and adults, especially those most vulnerable. To tackle skills shortages, citizens need easy access to career guidance and signposting to suitable opportunities.

The Decline of Career Advisers and the Central Focus on Teachers

Over the last decade, career advisers in England (professionally trained and qualified) have significantly diminished in numbers. There is evidence of lower salaries, precarious contracts (e.g., short-term, term-time only) and people leaving the profession (Careers England, 2022). The irony is that if ever there was a time when career advisers were needed in local communities, the time is now!  

Teachers have become the central focus of efforts to develop careers in schools. Teacher training has been funded/supported by the Career and Enterprise Company (CEC) with a £1,000 grant to schools that complete Careers Leader accredited or non-accredited training, but no funding has been made available to schools for pay for impartial careers advisers’ salaries.  

A new OECD report 2024, highlights PISA data that shows across the OECD it is more common for students who attend schools with fellow students from high socio-economic status backgrounds to have access to career counsellors within their school.  

Dr Chris Percy, a highly respected economist, shows that at a typical direct cost of £80 per young person for two interviews during secondary education, career guidance (reframed as personal guidance by the Gatsby Foundation) is highly likely to be a net positive investment for the Exchequer. Using valuations by government-commissioned studies, breakeven is achieved if – for instance – one in 500 secondary school students were prevented from becoming NEET before the age of 18 or one in 1800 were prevented from dropping out of Higher Education.  

Resources, AI, and the Challenges of Changing Careers

During National Careers Week, organisations like BBC Bitesize Careers along with many others are providing valuable resources to inspire young people. These resources help them learn from others and find opportunities that align with their talents, interests and skills. Advances are also being made in the use of artificial intelligence (AI) to support career exploration 24:7.  

Today, the stark reality is a third of adults (34%) want to change careers (Learning & Work Institute), yet only 16% of respondents understand exactly how their skills would be useful in another career. Many people lack the confidence and ‘know-how’ when it comes to changing careers.  

On a recent 10-day holiday, three people without any prompt shared their stories of how (i) they hate their job; (ii) they are worried about their children in their mid-twenties trapped in low-paid work, despite having obtained a higher education degree; and (iii) the mental health and wellbeing of individuals in their families who are struggling to find well-paid work are of major concern. Does this resonate with you? 

The Importance of Career Support Centres and Decent Work

England’s careers landscape became seriously fractured a decade ago. It remains so today. A recent report by Action for Children sheds light on the fact that many families, even with both parents working full-time on the minimum wage, find themselves struggling to make ends meet. This revelation underscores the pressing need for policies and investments that prioritise career guidance services and decent work.  

The Role of Career Support Centres

In essence, just as a food bank addresses the immediate need for sustenance, career support centres or hubs, integrated alongside other services, would tackle the fundamental need for meaningful work. These inter-agency services would empower individuals to unlock their full potential and lead dignified lives. They would serve as beacons of hope and opportunity, ensuring that no one is left behind in the pursuit of decent work and a brighter future. And in providing both practical assistance and moral support, they would create a nurturing environment where individuals can thrive and flourish. This isn’t a call to go back to ‘the old days’: instead, it is a call to invest in our nation’s best asset its people and highly trained professionals who are supporting young people and adults using both human and AI career support for social good.

The Meaning of Decent Work 

Decent work isn’t merely about employment; it encapsulates the idea that work should be productive, meaningful, remunerative, secure, and fulfilling. It’s about creating an environment where individuals can thrive, contribute meaningfully to society, and lead dignified lives. Moreover, it’s crucial for a society that values inclusion. 

The Importance of Inclusion

Inclusion is more than just a buzzword; it’s a fundamental principle that underscores the importance of ensuring that diverse voices and perspectives are not only heard but integrated into culturally relevant services. Inclusive policies and practices are essential for dismantling barriers that perpetuate discrimination and exclusion, ultimately fostering a more equitable society. 

Building a Sustainable and Resilient Society

Additionally, sustainability is a key component of building a resilient society. By meeting the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs, we ensure that our progress is not at the expense of the planet or future prosperity. Sustainable practices in employment and economic development are essential for addressing poverty, inequality, and gender disparities in the long term. 

Investing in Careers and Decent Work: A Pragmatic Approach

Investing in careers and decent work isn’t just a moral imperative; it’s also a pragmatic approach to addressing some of the most pressing challenges facing our society. By creating opportunities for meaningful employment, ensuring fair wages and working conditions, and fostering inclusive workplaces, we can mitigate the impacts of poverty and inequality while building a more resilient and prosperous society for all. 

But achieving this vision requires concerted efforts from both the public, private and third sectors. Future government policies must prioritise investments in education, training, career guidance and skills development to equip individuals with the tools they need to succeed.  

By working together, we can leverage our collective resources and expertise to create pathways to decent work for all members of society. 

As well as, taking steps to declutter the overcrowded and fragmented careers provision landscape, schools and colleges need to invest in careers provision and the partnership model with careers advisers should be reinstated. Also, mid-life career reviews for adults in the workplace and those in transition should become a government priority as in Norway, Sweden, Singapore, Switzerland, France and Wales. 


As we navigate the uncertainties of the present and strive to build a better future, let us remember the importance of investing in careers and decent work. By doing so, we not only empower individuals to fulfil their potential but also lay the foundation for a more inclusive, sustainable, and resilient society for generations to come. Let us also extend our deepest gratitude to the teachers and career advisers who, through their dedication and perseverance, continue to light the way for those in need. 

By Associate Professor Deirdre Hughes OBE 

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