Karen Adriaanse, author of the Ofsted report Going in the right direction? Careers guidance in schools from September 2012, has recently spoken out about the lack of employer involvement in careers guidance in schools.
Her report makes it clear that one of the problems is the fact that young people are unaware of the full range of jobs available in the economy.
If this is the case, it would seem that there is a big disconnect out there between the world of work and the world of education, which is doing no favours to anyone - potential employees and employers alike.
Now it is possible to make too much of the direct link between education and employment, to the point that we come to think that the purpose of education is to "get a good job". Well no, this is not the purpose of education. Knowledge and understanding are good things in and of themselves, even if certain parts of our knowledge and understanding are never used in our occupations.
That being said, when a teenager is approaching that point in their life when they need to start thinking through their options, they do need to see clearly the connection between the education they choose and what they will end up doing after that education. It seems that it is at this point that they are being let down. Why is this?
Despite all that is said about "joined up thinking" these days, we are, as a people, generally terrifically bad at actually carrying this out in practice. There was a time when this wasn't a problem at all: a person's career was mapped out for them and it was obvious what they would do and where they would do it. If you were a carpenter's son, you would end up being a carpenter. If you were a farmer's son, you would no doubt become a farmer. That might not seem to be a very dynamic situation to us, but as far as joined up career mapping is concerned, it was bang on!
Those days have of course pretty much disappeared, and there are now a multitude of choices out there for young people, both in terms of the education they get and the employment they end up in. But whilst the choices have multiplied, it seems that the career mapping is lagging far behind.
What we seem to have is a generation of teenagers who come to the end of their schooling, and then find themselves faced with a bundle of options but very little in the way of clear, impartial information that will help them make good choices. Okay, to some the way ahead is still obvious. So you're an extremely gifted musician – you go and study music with a view to becoming a professional musician. But for many teenagers, the future is far less clear and many end up drifting into A-levels and University, not because they necessarily have a clear aim of what this will lead to, but:
- Because it is the done thing?
- Because it is almost universally assumed that this path will lead to a well-paid job at the end?
- Because it puts career decisions off for another few years?
Yet it is often the case that such people emerge from University with massive debts hanging over their heads, no immediate career path to follow, and no more direction than they had when they started their degree.
Clearly this isn't healthy, doing favours to no-one in particular. Yet what is the solution? There is no quick fix, but any answer will include destigmatising vocational training, so that it is no longer seen as second class to the University route.
The answer will also include, as Karen Adriaanse suggests, schools and employers bridging the gap and working together to give teenagers a range of other options.
One further part of the solution would be to ensure that teenagers are given a much clearer view of the employment opportunities and trends out there, the average salaries that they might expect to earn in certain occupations, the qualifications and training needed to get there, and the connection between occupations and the course provision offered by their local Further Education College.
This is where Career Coach has a big part to play. Career Coach gives users the ability to see the predicted trends for any occupation or industry in their region, and enables them to see what qualifications are offered by the local Further Education College to successfully get them into that occupation. These attributes could, if marketed wisely, be used by the Further Education sector to bridge the gap between school leavers and local employers. A college with Career Coach could promote it in their local schools, driving school leavers to the college's website in order that they might have access to quality employment and course information, so helping them to begin mapping out their future more effectively than is currently the case.
Career Coach is by no means a perfect solution. It has its limitations. But for any college with an interest in bridging the skills gap between school leaver and employer, Career Coach may well prove to be an invaluable asset.
Rob Slane is a writer for Economic Modelling Specialists Int. (EMSI), a CareerBuilder company that provides industry-leading employment data and economic analysis via web tools and custom reports