Dr Deirdre Hughes OBE Chair, National Careers Council, England 2012 – 2014 and former Commissioner UKCES 2011 -2015

The Department for Education (DfE) has announced it is publishing shortly a new and long-awaited careers strategy for England. Therefore, it seems timely to share some reflections, given five years ago instigated by Ministers, education, industry and career sector leaders were brought together to provide advice and recommendations to Government on careers provision for young people and adults.

Since then, education and training routes continue to rapidly expand and labour markets are becoming more complex for young people, teachers and parents. It can be daunting to fully understand the myriad of options post-14 and to be well prepared for career decision making from an early age.

Today’s Industrial strategy highlights people as a key driver for Britain’s success. The real challenge that now lies ahead is to fill major skills and talent gaps, help individuals seize new opportunities, and invest in people ensure the industrial and productivity challenges can be met

The National Careers Council made a number of key recommendations and presented these to government in 2013 and 2014.

These included:

  • Addressing the lack of face-to-face careers provision for young people in local communities given the all-age National Careers Service (budget circa £120m) provided access mainly to a telephone helpline and website(s). The majority of funding targeted adults the only offer or service to young people were telephone and websites which were hardly used.
  • Providing schools and colleges with support to help them in the transition phase to meet their new statutory duties. It was recommended this be done with institutions having free and/or subsidized access to independent and impartial career development professionals’ expertise.
  • Ensuring schools and colleges have access to labour market intelligence/information (LMI) on jobs, salaries, career routes and vocational pathways for progression.
  • Having an all-age national careers service starting with role models in primary schools and building up more careers-focused activities and support in secondary schools and colleges.

Since then, government adopted some of the recommendations around an inspiration agenda, with 5% additional funding for the National Careers Service for work with schools and colleges providing LMI and links with employers. At the same time, an additional £70m was also allocated to set up a new Careers and Enterprise Company (CEC) to provide strategic support in secondary schools and colleges. In both cases, the eight Gatsby Benchmarks on what constitutes ‘Good Guidance’ have been fully embraced but not fully delivered.

For most schools and colleges, having free and/or subsidized access to independent and impartial face-to-face career development professionals expertise remains illusive. Instead, employers and teachers are expected to shoulder this responsibility, mainly through volunteering activities. There are discussions underway to train new and incoming graduates to become ‘middle leaders’ in schools and colleges to deliver careers education. This sounds positive, but it’s important that any roll-out of training is made available to all careers co-ordinators in England’s 3,200+ post primary schools to help build their professional development.

Will the careers strategy begin with a primary school focus? Research evidence shows many children eliminate certain careers by a young age. There is a growing need for more young people to have first-hand labour market insights. The idea of 100 hours experience of the world of work, in some form, by the time young people reach the age of 16 - starting in primary schools – has been adopted in Cornwall and London, as well as in many other areas such as the Black Country. This includes career insights from industry experts, work tasters, coaching, mentoring, enterprise activities, part-time work, work shadowing, work experience/supported work experience and other relevant activities. Skills and innovation are at the heart of our nation’s future growth.

Let’s hope the new Careers Strategy is sufficiently ambitious in opening up new opportunities and providing support for young people and adults given the era of ‘a job for life’ is well and truly gone.

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

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