Tristram Hooley

The government’s strategy on career guidance came to an end in 2020. With everything that was going on, no one got round to thinking about what should replace it. Professor Tristram Hooley of the University of Derby offers some ready-made New Year’s Resolutions for Gillian Keegan, the Minister for Apprenticeships and Skills.

In the last moments of 2017, the government launched its Careers Strategy. Following a period of cuts and confusion, the new strategy set out some vision for what career guidance in England should look like. All schools should have the Gatsby Benchmarks and a careers leader and be supported by a local careers hub and the Careers & Enterprise Company. What is more while the Careers Strategy was focused on schools and colleges, it also included some ideas for adults, higher education students and others. It wasn’t quite a lifelong strategy, but it was the best that we’d seen for a long time.

By the start of 2020 things seemed to be moving in a generally positive direction. Practice in schools was improving, the National Careers Service continued to work with adults and there was some excitement about what might happen next. The 2017 strategy was only ever supposed to last until 2020 and so it was time for new ideas.

But, in the words of Harold Macmillan, ‘events, dear boy, events’.

Careers under Covid

Clearly, the government has had other things on its mind over the last year. Although I think that career guidance is of critical importance, I can’t blame Gillian Keegan for focusing on other things than writing strategies.

In the short term, the government has done some good things on career guidance. The Chancellors s promise of £32 million and his statement that ‘the evidence says that career guidance works, so we’ll fund it’ has been particularly welcome. This has been combined with other postive measures like additional funding for Jobcentre Plus Work Coaches and the Kickstart wage subsidies. But, as an overall package the government’s response to the crisis has been insufficient.

The career guidance components of these plans have been beset with problems which require urgent attention otherwise the £32 million allocated to the area will not be spent. Meanwhile the progress that has been made on career guidance in schools looks increasingly fragile given the new pressures that schools are under. And the fact that it looks like the end of the Covid crisis is going to drag on, means that we desperately need some new thinking.

A new start

The start of the new year opens up the possibility for Gillian Keegan to really put her stamp on the area of career guidance. We are entering a recession that is likely to deepen throughout 2021. Covid is shrinking the number of jobs and driving labour market restructuring. This is going to result in an increase in occupational and sectoral shifting which in turn is likely to require extensive retraining. Career guidance has a critical role in helping adults to understand and respond to this rapidly shifting labour market.

For young people, the transition from education to the labour market has always been a moment when things can go wrong. The current crisis has exacerbated this challenge and requires a proactive intervention to prevent failed transitions and long-term scaring. Career guidance is ideally placed to support young people through these transitions, preventing them from becoming unemployed or economically inactive and supporting them to rapidly reintegrate into the education system (for further training) or find a job or other purposeful activity.

In other words, we desperately need a new careers strategy. This should be at the top of Gillian Keegan’s inbox when she returns.

The new strategy will need both short-term, crisis management elements and a long-term vision. I’ve taken the liberty of sketching out some of the key components that it should include.

In the short-term Gillian Keegan should resolve to…

  • Increase funding and guidance for schools and colleges to help them to address the way in which career guidance has been squeezed during the disruptions of 2020.
  • Fund schools, colleges and universities to provide proactive support for their unemployed and under-employed alumni and graduates.
  • Increase funding for programmes working intensively with unemployed young people.
  • Scale up the funding for the National Careers Service and extend it throughout the parliament. This should also include broadening the priority groups that the Service is funded to support. A key role of the Service should be to work with furloughed workers and workers who are being made redundant to pre-empt career crises and prevent people becoming unemployed.
  • Extend funding for Union Learn to continue to support the career choices of employees for the rest of the parliament.
  • Ensure that Jobcentre Plus Work Coaches have at least a basic training in career guidance and understand when to refer to guidance professionals.
  • Provide additional support for publicly funded career guidance programmes to digitise their services and train staff for digital delivery.
  • Undertake a public campaign to reassure people that they can get help with their career during the crisis and give them advice about how and where to best access services.

Over the longer-term the new strategy should…

  • Create an overarching vision and strategy for career guidance as a lifelong, multi-sectoral and national system.
  • Clarify and communicate individuals’ entitlement to career guidance.
  • Build on the progress that has been made within the compulsory education system, particularly by continuing to endorse the Gastby Benchmarks, support careers leaders and careers hubs and extend access to personal guidance.
  • Improve access to career guidance for working people. Most career decisions are made by people already in the workforce. The National Careers Service needs a stronger mandate to link with firm’s HR functions to provide career and learning support into businesses. The revival of the Union Learn service is also a critical part of this.

Professor Tristram Hooley

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