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The Skills for Jobs White Paper only heightens the need for a new Careers Strategy

Tristram Hooley

The publication of the Skills for jobs: Lifelong learning for opportunity and growth white paper has led to a flurry of policy analyses and political game playing. As the dust settles it is clear that the white paper offers very little that is completely new, and that much of what is does promise is aspirational at best.

Yes, it contains an ambitious vision for the reworking of student funding, but when the Treasury hasn’t signed off on this vision what is this really worth?

But, in the area of careers education and guidance, the white paper makes a few more concrete promises. I’ve just published a detailed analysis of the impact of the white paper on careers education and guidance for the Career Development Institute (CDI). In this analysis I argue that the white paper represents an important step forwards, but one which is insufficiently ambitious for the present circumstances.

Why is careers in the white paper?

The section of the white paper entitled ‘clear and trusted information, advice and guidance for careers and education choices’ feels like something of a strange insertion. While the rest of the white paper soars between rhetoric about creating a ‘new economic dawn for the county’ and announcing vague, but far-reaching ambitions, the section which focuses on careers is much more detailed and likely to be implemented quickly.

The proposals that the white paper sets out on careers all flow in a fairly straight line from the 2017 Careers Strategy. The end of 2020 was the expiry date for the commitments in the 2017 strategy, meaning that careers provision in schools or colleges needed some new attention. Rather than publishing a new strategy, the Department for Education took to decision to include careers in the white paper.

There are some good reasons for this, as it recognises the important role that career development can play in connecting education and employment, engaging people in technical and vocation learning and supporting skills reform. But, it also has the effect of nesting career development within further education policy. This ignores its wider links to schools, universities, unemployment and work.

All of this means that what emerged within the white paper is quite a long way away from the kind of all age careers strategy that is really needed.

What’s new?

Despite its limitations the white paper makes several important commitments on career development. These include:

  • Requiring schools to provide independent career guidance from year 7.
  • Publishing updated statutory guidance for careers.
  • Supporting and strengthening the ‘Baker clause’.
  • Continuing the rollout of the Careers Hubs.
  • Investing in more training for careers leaders.
  • Revamping the National Careers Service website.

It also sets out some longer-term plans for the scrutiny and development of the field. These include asking Ofsted to undertake a thematic review of career guidance and Sir John Holman to review the alignment of The Careers & Enterprise Company and the National Careers Service. There is also a stated aim to increase the focus on careers in teachers’ training and professional development.

Underpinning all of these commitments is an endorsement of the current status quo in schools and colleges. So we can expect to see a continuation of the Gatsby Benchmarks as the main framework for provision and The Careers & Enterprise Company as the main source of support for schools and colleges.

What’s missing?

Despite proposing a range of useful and practical initiatives, the white paper falls considerably short of being a lifelong careers strategy. As I’ve already argued the focus on further education limits what is addressed:

1. No careers support beyond complusory education

This means that it offers nothing much for higher education students, graduates, unemployed workers, those in work and those seeking career change. The 2017 strategy was viewed as a step forward because it made a limited attempt to think about careers and careers support beyond the compulsory education system. Rather than build on this, as a white paper that purports to offer a ‘lifetime’ view of skills, could do, it falls back on the idea that all career decisions are made before you leave school.

2. No way forward on personal guidance

Secondly, the white paper fails to offer a way forward on personal guidance, both within the education system and beyond it. Although it makes the unambiguous statement that ‘we need impartial, lifelong careers advice and guidance available to people when they need it, regardless of age, circumstance, or background’, there is no attention given to where people should get such advice and guidance or who from.

Almost 40% of schools are unable to guarantee access to personal guidance for all of their students. Meanwhile access to personal career guidance for those outside of education is patchy and fraught with difficulties. The simple solution of requiring that personal career guidance is provided by a qualified profession and then directing funding to make this happen, seems not to have occurred to the government.

3. No radical solutions for the post covid career landscape

Finally, the fact that the approach to career development set out in the white paper is largely a continuation of existing policy should set alarm bells ringing. We are now in a crisis that is very different from the situation of 2017. We need new, more radical, and better funded solutions, rather than more of the same.

Given this, it is hoped that the announcements in the white paper only represent the beginning of a bigger process of reform and investment in England’s career guidance system.

Professor Tristram Hooley

Read the full CDI briefing paper on the Skills for Jobs White Paper

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