Kieran Gordon- Executive Director, Careers England

Skills for Jobs: Lifelong Learning for Opportunity and Growth - The Case for Investment in demand-side Careers Support and Incentives

The Government’s White Paper, Skills for Jobs: Lifelong Learning for Opportunity and Growth, is to be welcomed in so far as it sets out an intention to invest in technical and higher technical education to meet the challenges of a changing economy, being further re-shaped by Brexit and the Covid pandemic. However, references made to an all-age careers system needs to be more than a pantomime horse if it is to bring about the change in careers support that is needed for young people and adults across England.

To be truly transformational the changes must start earlier

To be truly transformational the changes must start earlier in the schooling system, alongside colleges and careers professionals’ work embedded in local communities. The traditional 11-16 education system remains rooted in outcomes linked to student academic success e.g. A levels being viewed by parents and teachers as a gold standard, ergo all other education often of lower value in comparison. The big challenge for government is how to convince the general public that new T levels, apprenticeships, traineeships, - to name a few - are worthy and credible career pathways.

The White Paper sets out changes to further education and technical education and the sums of money involved, although it has conflated this with the Plan for Jobs response to the pandemic so it is not clear how much of this funding is new and long-term? Furthermore, its underlying weakness is the fact that it hasn’t adequately realised the need for investment in the demand-side, the provision of access to independent and professional careers advice for young people.

Given that the 11-16 education system in England is overtly based on an academic curriculum which places greater value on A levels and university entrance than other routes, young people and their parents will continue to approach choices about post-16 learning and careers based on this understanding. How will technical education and skills training be afforded a higher value and status against this backdrop, even with the welcomed roll-out of T Levels and the focus on improving the apprenticeship offer?

We need to ensure young people’s have access to independent and impartial careers advice and guidance from trained professionals

If the nation is to invest more in technical and vocational education and skills, we need to ensure young people’s have access to independent and impartial careers advice and guidance from trained professionals to help them gain from this. This is not a point for debate in Scotland, Wales or Northern Ireland where trained careers professionals help support young people to navigate the increasingly complex options and opportunities in a fast-changing labour market. Without this, the government’s ambitions and investment will not be fully realised. Vocational routes and technical skills will remain an alternative or secondary education pathway, rather than a primary one for the many young people for whom this may be a better option.

The fact that the White Paper advocates taking steps to enforce the Baker Clause in schools would seem to recognise the difficulties there are with 11-18 schools’ track record in opening up alternative routes to school sixth forms and that young people aren’t accessing the information, advice and guidance they need to appreciate the wider range of opportunities available to them. 

Gatsby benchmarks

Despite an understanding of the importance of the need for high standards in career learning, advice and guidance - as promoted by principles underpinning the Gatsby Quality Benchmarks since 2014 - it remains the case that careers guidance, (or personal guidance as it termed in benchmark 8) is still not universally accessible for students, or of sufficient quality. The Careers and Enterprise Company, acting as a facilitator of the Gatsby benchmarks, has been piloting models of ‘Personal Guidance’, but it is not clear how these will be scaled up, embedded, and supported with funding as Careers Hubs are rolled out across the country. It should be noted evidence-based findings indicate for each £1 the government invests in personal guidance, it should be confident of recouping at least £4 and most likely more. But most importantly, this is a moment in time when young people need trusted careers support from trained professionals.

For each £1 the government invests in personal guidance, it should be confident of recouping at least £4 and most likely more

Without funding for schools and colleges, directly or indirectly, to guarantee access to impartial and professional careers guidance for every young person, where they need it, this will undermine the efforts being made to embed and sustain Gatsby benchmarks. It is essential to ensure greater take up by young people of technical learning and skills training in meeting the demands of a changing economy. Furthermore, the careers landscape across England is not easy to describe. It can appear confusing, fragmented and unclear to young people and their parents. People need targeted help to navigate it.

In acknowledging the importance of facilitating greater fluidity and flexibility in Traineeships and Apprenticeships, the White Paper misses the importance of funding a careers guidance guarantee/entitlement to enable people to navigate their options and effect better transferability in the apprenticeship system and in the progression from traineeships. In Northern Ireland, all school leavers have an entitlement to a careers interview with an independent and highly trained careers professional. By providing access to expert and independent careers guidance, this can help young people aged 16-18 to make reasoned and informed choices in navigating what is a complex opportunity framework. This can be done by broadening the reach of the National Careers Service in terms of its offer of face-to-face careers advice. If government doesn’t do this, they risk wasted opportunities, wasted time and wasted talent, particularly if young people are unable to realise the value of experiences, qualifications and skills in making career decisions at all stages of transition post-16.

It should be acknowledged that there is a focus on careers support in the White Paper

Finally, it should be acknowledged that there is a focus on careers support in the White Paper and it is welcome that there is reference to there being an approach to an all-age system of careers advice. What is needed however is more than the alignment of the Careers and Enterprise Company (CEC) and the National Careers Service (NCS), what is needed is an all-age or lifelong careers strategy with the underpinning infrastructure to provide a careers guidance entitlement for all. The alignment referred to does not appear to take into account the very different structures, roles and functions of the CEC and the NCS: the former a facilitating body; the latter a direct and indirect delivery organisation. It needs to be more than a pantomime horse if it is to bring about the change in all-age careers support that is needed for young people and adults facing a very uncertain future in the wake of the pandemic and the longer term changes to employment and work into the future.

Kieran Gordon- Executive Director, Careers England

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