With both National Apprenticeship Week and National Careers Week putting careers in the spotlight, it’s a great time to reflect on exactly what is being done to help the next generation into fulfilling careers.

We regularly hear about the problematic skills gaps emerging in a range of industries, particularly across the digital, health care and construction sectors. Employers talk about young people lacking the necessary ‘softer skills’ such as the ability to communicate effectively and their fears around being able to create adequate pipelines of future talent.

And now, adding to these voices of concern, are those of the young people themselves. The Career Colleges Trust recently spoke to 1000 13-16 year olds year olds about their views on the current education system and their thoughts on careers. With over 66% declaring that they are worried their education will be a ‘waste of time’ and only 13% feeling that the main focus of their education is on their future career – alarm bells start to ring.

The opinions of young people are rarely given much airtime, with hard hitting politicians or top employers tending to be listened to far more. But we should be taking note of what the future generation has to say as it won’t be long before they are the ones supporting our economy.

The National Curriculum is NOT naturally aligned to career routes

And these 13-16 year olds are in fact, quite right. The National Curriculum is NOT naturally aligned to career routes or steps to work and it is hard for young people to see the practical application of what they’re studying. There is little link to the real world of work and rarely is learning set in such a context.

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We have required secondary school teachers to train as subject specialists and many do not have industry experience.Teachers have a limited knowledge about the many new and emerging roles in the industries facing skills shortages, so opportunities that are not known about, remain untapped.

Equally parents will be familiar with a system which has changed, and unfamiliar by the myriad of new careers emerging in all sectors. It is not really any surprise that young people can’t rely on the familiar pastoral support for career guidance. 

13-16 year olds should be buzzing with excitement about all the amazing opportunities open to them in the future – not feeling de-motivated by learning purely for exams, which can feel so irrelevant.

They also need to know about the different educational routes to success. Major employers have publicised that they have scrapped degree entry to work (e.g. Penguin) and more major firms offer degree apprenticeships and stepped progression, possibly fast tracks to ‘earn and learn’ straight from school (e.g. EY, PWC, Accenture).

Making The Most Of Everyone’s Skills And Talents

The Government’s Careers Strategy (December 2017) - a series of measures to be implemented from 2018-20 to improve careers guidance in England - rightly acknowledged a need for more independent information, advice and guidance for young people regarding the education and employment options available to them.

By the end of 2020, the strategy intends that all schools and colleges will have access to an Enterprise Adviser. This is important as it acknowledges the importance of having experts in place, to advise young people on exciting future opportunities, which they, their teachers and their parents may not know about. 

In addition, the strategy also makes clear that schools/colleges should offer every young person seven encounters with employers, including STEM employers. Although a good thing in principle, this doesn’t necessarily provide a coherent basis for career planning and aspiration building – as it will very much depend on what actually happens within an ‘encounter’. It’s conceivable that individual encounters with employers could actually leave young people with more questions which need to be answered and pulled together.

Social Mobility In Great Britain

When we turn to the State of the Nation report (November 2018) on progress, it appears the young people are right again- this report reveals that 900 schools and colleges are achieving an average of just 2.7 out of the 8 Careers Education Benchmarks (Gatsby Benchmarks).

There are many reasons for this – but ultimately schools are under-funded and under immense pressure to perform well in public examinations (league tables).

Undoubtedly it takes a brave school to talk about alternative education options with its pupils – as the right route for some young people may not be staying at school to do A-Levels, which will affect a school’s bottom line.

Moreover, young people are making life-changing decisions when they chose their GCSE options at 13, which could limit later career options. More and early exposure to the many work opportunities is required. Indeed, many high performing primary schools are now embracing this, to raise aspirations and tackle stereotypes, with great examples of careers education for children as young as seven.

The Fouth Educational Revolution

For things to change, our education system needs to change. The new Ofsted framework being implemented later this year will hopefully help as it aims to focus less on exam results and more on the quality of education and outcomes for pupils. This is crucial and would be instrumental in changing the sorts of pressures on schools, encouraging them to focus on children’s wider development and being able to give access to a broader curriculum.

Schools also need to embrace the Baker Clause and let colleges and other providers in willingly, to talk about routes other than A Levels. There genuinely are many pathways to success and children and their parents need to be given confidence that this is indeed the case.

Project-based Learning

We also need to consider both what and how students are learning, with an emphasis on enterprise and digital skills – better preparing them for employment. Project-based learning is key to ensure young people can build great practical experience. This helps them stand out from others with the same qualifications, who will be applying for the same jobs. It also gives them the confidence to face real life and work scenarios. Many colleges are leading the way in PBL and this best practice should be shared more widely.

By working more closely with employers and being better supported to offer good careers advice, schools and colleges are in a great position to help young people into the right educational routes for them – which will then ultimately lead to great jobs. This is the only way forward if we are to meet the skills demands of today and tomorrow.

Ruth Gilbert, CEO, Career Colleges Trust

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