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One thing leads to another…

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Geoff Russell, Chief Executive of the Skills Funding Agency, says choice may be challenging but the right advice at the time can be empowering.

I am a great believer that one thing leads to another.

And that’s never truer than where life, learning and careers are concerned. The winds of change may close one door, but that just creates the dilemma about where to look next.

In a volatile economy that continues to evolve and challenge any pre-conceived ideas on learning and employment, it’s likely we’ve said goodbye to the days of one job for life. Maybe, in fact, a career becomes more a series of interconnecting rooms, with skills and acquired experience the key to unlocking each door. Hello to a new world where consecutive careers are de rigueur.

Which takes me to a story I heard recently, of Suzanne Welburn, who at 39 was made redundant from the company where she had worked for more than 21 years as an engineering resource co-ordinator in charge of a small team.  She was absolutely devastated and felt as though she was on the scrap heap. But thanks to great careers advice and support she has picked herself up and is now on course to a new career as a teaching assistant. Suzanne, who lives near Hull, said that the advice helped get her confidence back and see that she had lots of transferable skills to offer and now feels confident and positive about an exciting future ahead.

So if we are to help people weather the storm of economic change, it is critically important for every young person and adult as they manage their careers that we tell them what learning options are available, how they lead to different jobs, and what the prospects of getting those jobs really are.

But choice can also be challenging.  So the right advice at the right time

is fundamental and can be both empowering and illuminating.  And the right careers guidance is especially important, because – let’s be clear – it can set people on the path to a fulfilling working life, steering decisions that will help fulfil hopes and ambitions for their entire lives.  Its absence can destine many to the opposite.

It’s against this clearly identified need that the National Careers Service launched this month, with a mission to help people manage their career, get a job, move on in work, and find the right learning.  You will remember that in 2010 the Government introduced the Next Step careers service for adults. It has been a real success, allowing different ways of providing advice to be tested.  But the National Careers Service will mark the start of a new chapter in information, advice and guidance.

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It will improve access and quality of careers provision to all adults across England and young people aged thirteen and over, with a commitment to making independent, professional advice on careers available to everyone, when and where they need it.

The ease with which clients can touch the Service is everything. In a world increasingly dependent on the net, one really valuable dimension to the National Careers Service is the dynamic, intuitive and customer-friendly website which makes the service highly accessible regardless of where people live.  And critically, the website will have labour market information from a range of expert sources, including Sector Skills Councils, employers, Local Employer Partnerships, the Labour Force Survey, employer associations and chartered institutes.  And building on its success to date, the Lifelong Learning Account will feature as a much stronger offer to clients of the service.

But quality has to accompany access to make the Service a success. An essential role of the Service will also be to help raise the bar on careers professionalism – an essential element to ensuring that IAG is recognised as the crucial and rewarding vocation that it is.  One element of this is that the Service will have advisers working to the matrix benchmark, a strong set of national standards for careers advice.

And the principle of market forces that makes the sector so responsive and efficient continues. The National Careers Service will ensure that there is a core of high quality careers advice available to everyone. Beyond that, a flourishing commercial market in products and services will develop that helps people make career choices.  So there will be a network of public, private and voluntary sector organisations funded by the Government to provide face to face services to adults on the open market.

Bringing careers advice firmly onto our doorsteps and into the realms of everyday life, I am reminded of a saying that many of my fellow pet-owners (two labradoodles in my case) in the sector may be familiar with..

A dog is for life, not just for Christmas’ goes the saying.  So too with careers advice.  In an interesting paradox it’s true to say that whilst a job may no longer be for life, careers advice most certainly must be there for people throughout their lives.

So it is in our collective interest to make the National Careers Service one of the most successful public services and one of the most popular brands in the country. It is our aim, with your help, to do just that.

Geoff Russell is chief executive of the Skills Funding Agency, a partner organisation of the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills

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