Every ‘long-awaited’ strategy from the Government comes with much expectation from the sector it affects.
This is most certainly the case with the Careers Strategy, published last week. Careers education has long been criticised by employers, parents, universities and even schools themselves – so action to improve it is long overdue.
The strategy is based around four key priorities including; ensuring that every school and college has a high-quality careers programme; providing opportunities for work experience; offering tailored support to students, and utilising appropriate sources of information about jobs and careers.
These principles are undeniably sound, identifying areas that are fundamental to effective careers education. Yet, the budgets to back these initiatives do not match the scale of the task in hand – in fact they are nowhere near. There is also some development needed in terms of implementing the proposals – and how this going to be done to ensure maximum effectiveness.
Starting with the Dedicated Careers Leaders, the emphasis on these roles needs to be on understanding the current and future skills shortages ie: ensuring young people know about the careers which offer the most opportunities. These don’t tend to be based on national curriculum subjects (for example - engineering, biotech and construction) and without guidance, many children won’t know to consider them. How many 13 year olds will consider the impact of choosing or dropping a GCSE subject- how this could limit their career choices in future? How many parents know about the new career opportunities growing and emerging? Subjects and qualifications do not equate to careers.
Careers Leaders need to understand the changing jobs market. They need to know about specific sectors – like digital technology - where new roles are constantly evolving. It would also make sense for the Government’s industry reports to be shared with careers advisers within schools/colleges, so they can understand what job sectors are growing and will be expanding in the future. Why do we expect individual career advisers to source intelligence on the labour market?
The strategy highlights the importance of quality interactions between schools and businesses. The fact is that schools don’t generally have the business connections needed to administrate this. It would make sense to regionalise opportunities for young people – as some local authorities and college groups have done with industry/career fairs. Many employers understand the importance of helping to train the next generation and as we can see from our own Career Colleges – businesses of all sizes are very willing to step up and support education.
Career Hubs are also highlighted, to be set up in the most disadvantaged areas. It is not yet clear what shape these will take, but industry-led initiatives would be the most effective. I am also a huge supporter of Youth Ambassadors, who could raise awareness of great job opportunities via apprenticeships and help inspire their peers into growing industries.
Vitally, careers education must start young. The Government has committed £2m to help engage children in schools from an early age and raise their aspirations. This must include the breaking down of gender stereotypes. Female role models should be identified to inspire girls into STEM and other traditionally male roles.
The Baker Amendment is an important part of the new strategy – but without enforcement, it is unclear as to how effective it will be. However, we will be encouraging our Career College network to go into secondary schools, and talk to 12 and 13 year olds about the many options available to them. Colleges and training providers must put pressure on schools to ensure they are given the opportunity to go in and explain the alternative educational routes on offer
In addition, we must signpost parents (as well as young people), to ‘earn as you learn’ apprenticeship opportunities, helping to raise the esteem of technical routes. With growing graduate unemployment and rising debt, these alternative pathways are undoubtedly essential for our digital economy.
How we communicate and interact with young people is crucial, with the use of technology being key to helping millennials navigate their career choices. There is no doubt that young people will research online and app-based communication tools first, for example Rate My Apprenticeship and Rate My University. Work needs to done on collating online toolkits and guidance for students and their parents to navigate and be signposted to existing resources.
Ultimately, the ideas in this strategy are the right ones, but they need to be developed in partnership with industry and implemented effectively. To do this, the Government should consider what is already being done successfully in schools and colleges. They also need to look at existing resources and labour market information (making this accessible to all) and appreciate that parents are key to decision making by young people about their education and career options.
Ruth Gilbert, CEO of the Career Colleges Trust