The importance of high quality careers education is one of those things that no-one can dispute.
Quite simply, young people can’t possibly make informed decisions about their futures, without being taught more about the opportunities available to them. And this is frustrating at a time when some really good work is being done to strengthen skills and vocational education in this country.
With T Levels, a continued drive to increase and improve apprenticeships and the promise of more money for the FE sector, it does seem that hands-on learning is getting a bit more of a look in than it has done for the last few years.
This is vital, considering that many industries are facing skills gaps that will most likely affect productivity if they are not addressed.
The rapid advance of technology is also changing the skills needs of many sectors, with new roles being created and others being lost. Employers are constantly searching for people with the right skills to fit these changing roles.
So we find ourselves in a situation where many career paths are available to young people, requiring a whole host of new skills and offering a huge number of exciting, fulfilling and indeed lucrative roles.
The educational pathways in which to reach such jobs are also available, with FE colleges, apprenticeship providers and employers keen to recruit enthusiastic young people and help them on their journey to a successful career.
Yet the issue is that the young people so desperately needed for these new, exciting jobs have absolutely no idea that the job, or even the sector, exists.
And, where this is the case, there will be missed opportunities all round. Having fabulous training programmes in place becomes ineffectual if they are not understood or sought after by the target audience.
How can employers expect young people to be queuing up for jobs in cyber security and cloud technology when they have little or no understanding of the industry and its exponential growth? And why does a job in the hospitality sector seem appealing if all a young person thinks of is clearing tables and washing up?
Effective, impartial careers advice has to come first.
We need to be enthusing young people about the many opportunities out there, being clear that academic achievement is only one part of a much wider picture.
Clear, impartial guidance about exciting career options
The Government has not ignored the issue entirely. We’ve had the Baker Clause, we’ve had the Gatsby Career Benchmarks. Both of these should be helping to open up options to young people, offering clearer, impartial guidance about exciting career options.
But this remains a challenge for our schools who work within tight parameters. They justifiably want to keep able pupils at school for as long as possible, achieving well in public exams, boosting league tables and securing university entrants.
Those children not fitting in this box rarely get the support they need, which can lead to underachievement. Better advice and guidance, earlier in their school journey, could avoid this and put these children, who are often very talented in other areas, on a pathway to success.
As the Careers and Enterprise Company’s State of the Nation report revealed in 2018, the average number of Gatsby Benchmarks being achieved across 3000 schools and colleges was just 2.1.
At this stage, only 21 institutions had achieved the full eight and the CEC itself concluded that ‘…There is still a very long way to go.’
So what are the options?
We have to address the clear mismatch between the academic-focus of the national curriculum and the new, changing careers of the modern world – alongside improving the knowledge of young people ABOUT these opportunities.
And there are some innovative ideas being developed. In East Riding of Yorkshire for example, developer Manor Property Group is proposing to build a regional Careers Hub in partnership with the LEP, four local councils and employers. This is a unique and collaborative approach in which needs and possible solutions are being identified for careers education in the region.
The Qdos Careers Hub is a unique facility, which will provide impartial careers advice to young people from schools and colleges across the region. The project would complement existing and established services, working with local stakeholders and responding directly to employment opportunities.
Schools have limited funding and clearly don’t want to send their best pupils off to college at age 16, even if this may be the best route for the child. A regional Careers Hub, like the one being proposed in Yorkshire would remove institutional bias, giving young people the chance to meet real employers, in cutting edge facilities, outside of the classroom. This will inevitably enable them to make their own, informed decisions about future careers.
It would also be much easier for employers to commit time to a central hub to give talks and workshops as opposed to visiting 100 schools.
This is an innovative solution to a growing issue – which we call upon schools and colleges to support. Young people deserve to be told about the opportunities available to them.
This is in turn would then enable them to make the most of the excellent technical, vocational and skills education offered by the FE sector.
Ruth Gilbert, Group Education Director, Manor Property Group, Honorary Fellow, UCL Institute of Education