From education to employment

We are letting Britain’s young people down

Dr Deirdre Hughes OBE, Director, DMH & Associates Ltd

Informal encounters and random acts of kindness from employers, mentors and volunteers alone will not solve much needed careers guidance for Britain’s young people

At exam results time there is always a frenzy of careers support activities in schools and colleges across England. Many institutions will be doing their best to guide students to make last minute decisions based on their results. But the current careers support system in England is broken with too much reliance on informality and hard-to-navigate information. There has been a serious de-professionalisation of careers work in England’s schools, with young people and families missing out on vital information and support.

A national survey of students’ views on careers work in England’s schools (i) describes careers education and young people’s engagement with careers information as both “patchy and patterned by social injustices” (p.3). Careers work in schools is not reaching those most in need. To learn about the world of work and find a first job, many young people rely on informal and family connections. But for children living in workless households (1.3 million, equal to more than 10% of all children across the UK) these valuable informal networks may simply not exist (ii). And for many more they may offer only a restricted or out-of-date picture of possibilities. For young people themselves, informal connections and networks tend to be built up over time and through experience of work.

Having more inspirational activities for young people in schools and colleges with exposure to employers and mentors is a good thing. Organisations such as Young Enterprise, Business in the Community, the National Careers Service, Careers and Enterprise Company, Job Centre Plus, education business partnerships and national charities are all working to this similar end. Inspiration is high on the government’s agenda. But is this enough to help inform and support young people on the full range of options available to them? Informal encounters and random acts of kindness from employers, mentors and volunteers alone will not solve much needed careers support for Britain’s young people. This approach is only part of the solution.

For the last five years, schools have had to fund careers guidance from their overall budget when the £200 million dedicated budget was withdrawn from local authorities. For many, this has proved extremely challenging and further cuts are on the horizon. The National Audit Office (2016) indicates that schools in England must reduce spending by 8per cent per pupil by 2020 (iii), it is likely that careers guidance is in danger of dropping even further down the list of priorities. 

But youngsters need to know, for example, there will be more job openings in future for those with skills. By 2024 there are expected to be about 1.8 million more jobs in the UK than in 2014. But growth is likely be strongest for highly-qualified roles where there already skill shortages. (iv) Almost half of all employment (47%) is set to be in managerial, professional, or associate professional and technical jobs by 2024. The other area of employment growth is forecast to be caring and personal service jobs (a 13% rise is expected over the period to 2024). Job openings here too call for different and better levels of skills – such as communications skills – from those required by many traditional jobs.

Also, technological change will reduce the number of low-skilled jobs. The number of openings for process, plant and machine operators and administrative roles will all fall over the coming years. By 2024, only 2% of those in employment are likely to hold no formal qualifications. (v) Portfolio working and ‘the gig economy’ is becoming increasingly popular as more individuals trade on their skills and experiences. To achieve awareness on this scale, it is vital that high-quality impartial careers guidance is made available to all young people.

Student choices and decisions are increasingly complicated. Education and apprenticeship reforms inevitably have immediate and longer-term financial implications. Student debt is on the increase. The proportion of youngsters from disadvantaged families who leave university after their first year has reached the highest level for five years. (vi) Among those successfully securing apprenticeships only 22% report receiving good or very good advice from school or college. Shockingly, 5% got no advice at all and many more are getting poor advice – nearly 40% of apprentices say the advice they got was bad or very bad. (vii)

The track record in this country on careers support for young people is far below what is needed, with too much reliance on informality and hard-to-navigate information. The government’s long-awaited national careers stratgey, including young people’s entitlement to careers guidance, must address this issue.

Dr Deirdre Hughes OBE, Director, DMH & Associates Ltd, Associate Fellow, University of Warwick, Institute for Employment Research (IER)


  1. Moote, , & Archer, L.(2017). Failing to deliver? Exploring the current status of career education provision in England, Research Papers in Education, London. This research draws on data collected from over 13,000 Year 11 students aged 15/16 years and in-depth longitudinal interviews conducted with 70 students from this cohort (aged from 10 to 16 years).
  2. See: Working and workless households in the UK: Jan to Mar 2017, ONS.
  3. National Audit Office. (2016, December 14). Government schools budget cuts.
  4. Working Futures 2014-2024: evidence report 100, UKCES, April 2016.
  5. Office for Fair Access (2017) Official data shows that in 2014-15, 8.8% of young, full-time, disadvantaged undergraduates did not continue in higher education beyond their first year – up from 8.2% the year before. By comparison, in 2014-15, less than 5% of those from the wealthiest backgrounds did not continue their studies.
  6. Possibly the best career route in the world? Industry Apprentice Council, July 2017

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