John Yarham, Vice Chair of Careers England and CEO of Futures Advice, Skills and Employment

My previous article, entitled ‘What did your careers adviser tell you?’ was written in anticipation of the careers strategy being published. Now that it has been launched and we know that all of young people’s careers work will come under the auspices of the Careers and Enterprise Company; aligned to the Gatsby benchmarks; and careers advice for adults will be delivered by the National Careers Service, where next for careers?

It’s important to acknowledge the different schools of thought regarding the strategy. One criticism is that it is more a series of actions than a strategy. Another is the lack of any significant additional funding to support the work. A further concern relates to the continued reliance on schools to prioritise careers in an already pressured budget and policy context. I recognise all of these thoughts but as a natural optimist, I also think that there are at least two reasons to look forward with more encouragement.

Recognition. The first reason is that the importance of careers is recognised in a government strategy. One that was so important, it took three separate ministers to get it published! The basis of the dismantling of services at the start of the decade was fundamentally borne from a belief that careers guidance wasn’t important. This strategy appears to signal the opposite and points towards progress.    

Continuity. The second reason for optimism is that despite all of the rumours during the latest Cabinet reshuffle, we still have the Minister who oversaw the publication of the strategy – Anne Milton – in her post. The rapid turnover in the skills’ ministerial portfolio has exemplified the rapidly changing nature of policy in the sector and provided one of its main challenges. To continue to have Anne Milton in post is therefore a relief and provides the foundation of being able to move into implementation without further disruption.

Thirty years after the introduction of ‘Baker days’ (INSET training days for teachers for those not of that generation), the launch of the so-called ‘Baker Clause’ to ensure that schools have to promote technical education and apprenticeships offered by other providers, is a welcome policy development. How this is implemented and policed is currently unclear. When will we see our first test-case of a provider challenging a school for their failure to comply with the duty I wonder? Who is responsible for making a judgement in such a situation? Central government? Local authorities? The Regional Schools’ Commissioner? Such questions remain about how this will work but the recognition that schools are not always able to offer impartial advice because of the pressure of filling their own sixth forms, as a Government policy level, is welcome. I remember a minister acknowledging the issue a few years ago but swiftly declaring that there were ‘bigger problems’ to worry about. That may be true at a macro level but for the many individuals that make bad decisions without a full suite of information, it’s a difficult message to convey. The Baker Clause is a further piece of progress. 

The nature of funding for careers remains an issue, despite the addition of new funding arrangements for the Careers and Enterprise Company. I have seen some school leaders recently writing about their genuine desire to do more in providing their students high quality careers support but are hampered in being able to do so by the lack of funding that they have at their disposal. This will not be helped by the careers inspiration activity delivered by the National Careers Service finishing in the autumn. Whilst the direction of travel for the Careers and Enterprise Company to coordinate young people’s activity is clear, the detail behind how such activity will be funded in the future is not clear. This is not just confined to schools. The news that the current careers advice provided to prisoners across the country will finish in March, with no clear succession arrangements outlined, also highlights the need for clarity over funding, to avoid any accusations that the positive rhetoric over careers is not supported by the reality of resources made available.

An important aspect of such points are the types of organisations that we want to deliver such services. As the CEO of a social enterprise – effectively a not for profit company – I have a rather biased view of the types of organisation that I see as best placed to deliver the combination of care and professionalism required. The recent news regarding Carillion, coming relatively soon after the more sector focused issues over Learndirect, has cast a shadow over outsourcing arrangements for the public sector more generally. I believe that there are lessons for all parties from these very sad situations but as with most things in life, a balance needs to be struck in arriving at a better solution for the future. Organisations delivering public services need to have a scale to enable them to invest in quality, systems and processes. This applies to careers guidance just as it does construction. I also believe however, that not being overly extended helps to mitigate some of the risks that have been highlighted by the Carillion situation. I recently had the unenviable job of communicating the news regarding the cessation of the in-custody careers contract mentioned earlier to the forty staff in Futures affected by this decision. As difficult as this was, it felt better doing it in person and being able to convey the message from the top of the organisation directly to all of the colleagues that are now facing redundancy at the end of March than it would have in a large corporate structure where the approach may have been more perfunctory. Part of the reason that we were judged as Outstanding by Ofsted is a sense of genuine care. I am able to address each one of Futures’ three hundred colleagues to convey such an important message. Being able to balance the scale required to deliver value for money with a requirement for familiarity and care that underpins most public sector work is a challenge for both commissioners and delivery organisations. I passionately believe that social enterprises can grow and develop in this space.

It will therefore be an interesting time over the next year as the new arrangements for the careers strategy start to emerge. I feel optimistic about the intentions that it is founded upon whilst remaining realistic about the challenges set out. The sector and government working together can make the difference. The Department for Education, the Careers and Enterprise Company, the National Careers Service, key providers and sector based bodies need to collaborate to ensure that people of all ages and aspirations receive the support that they need in developing their careers. The work is too important and resources too thin to allow any cracks to emerge between any of these key players.

John Yarham, Vice Chair of Careers England and CEO of Futures Advice, Skills and Employment

About Futures: Futures is a not for profit social enterprise specialising in careers advice. Futures was rated as Outstanding by Ofsted for its delivery of the National Careers Service in January 2017.

About Careers England: The trade association for employer organisations and traders involved in the provision of products and services promoting careers education.

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