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I wrote recently about the danger of careers information getting lost in the seemingly never ending changes being imposed upon colleges. In the conclusion to that piece, I said that the key to making sure careers information doesn’t fall off the radar lies in seeing it as an integral part of the overall college mission of “training people in the skills employers really need, to foster economic growth and sustainable employment.” In this piece I want to continue this theme, but this time looking at it from the angle of why it is crucial that young people are made more aware of what the skills needs of employers in their region actually are.

We have recently done some research using our Career Coach tool, gathering data on the careers that people (most of whom will be young people) are searching for. Whilst the numbers we have collected do not allow for a scientific analysis, since they are obviously only taken from our partner colleges, nevertheless they do represent almost a quarter of a million career searches, and so can be said to give a broad indication of the sorts of careers that young people are actually looking for.

The results suggest two things: firstly, in the case of certain careers, the percentage of people searching for information is not too far wide of being in line with labour market demand. However, for the most part, there is a big mismatch between career aspirations and the reality of the labour market. Although these things are somewhat contradictory, they actually lead to broadly the same conclusion: that where aspirations and reality match, colleges need to be giving young people the information to direct them towards associated courses; where there is misalignment between aspirations and demand, they need to be giving them the information to redirect them towards other career paths where the needs of employers are greater.

So let’s just look at some of the data. The graph below shows two things. Firstly, the green bars represent the Top 15 most searched-for occupations across all Career Coach sites in the past year, shown as a percentage of total searches across all occupations. The orange bar represents the projected number of annual openings in these occupations, expressed as a percentage of the total number of annual openings for all occupations across Britain (note: the percentages might seem low, but it must be remembered that there are 369 occupation classifications in total):


Graph showing careers searches compared to annual openings


Looking down the list of top searches (the green bars), there perhaps aren’t that many surprises. You would probably have expected young people to be searching for teaching jobs and healthcare jobs, as well as ones like software development professionals. What is interesting, though, is that the figures clearly show significant interest from young people in certain occupations that are very much talked about as being in demand at the moment.

For instance, there has been a lot in the media recently about the shortage of nurses, to the point that it is being described as a crisis (see here). In fact, our projections show that there are likely to be around 30,000 openings for nurses per year up to 2024, which is why the orange bar, representing annual openings, is not too far off the same size as the green bar. In other words, the searches that young people are making for nursing tally fairly well with actual demand.

What this means, especially given the crisis in nursing, is that it is critical to channel the interest young people are showing, towards the training that can turn their aspirational search into a career reality. What we don’t want, at a time of critical shortage, is thousands of young people who might be interested in going into nursing, but who end up choosing something else because they just didn’t get the right information and the right direction.

However, whilst there are examples of occupations where the number of searches aligns reasonably well with demand (nursing; programmers and software development professionals; and primary and nursery education teaching professionals, for example), there are many others where this is not the case at all and where searches far exceed openings (aircraft pilots and flight engineers; and air traffic controllers, for instance). And it is also worth pointing out that the reverse is true, and there are also many occupations (not shown on the chart), where openings far exceed searches.

Now there’s nothing wrong with a young person going online to look at how to become a pilot, but since the demand is very low, there needs to be a mechanism which:

  1. Shows them what training they need to do to do that career
  2. Clearly shows them the level of demand for that career
  3. Directs them to other options if the demand is low

This was summed up perfectly in our recent national conference by Dr Lisa Clark, Senior Economic Policy Manager in the Sheffield City Region LEP. Talking about careers information, she put it like this:

          “If you want to be an astronaut – go for it. But understand that there’s one British astronaut. You’re going to have to have a plan             plan B, C, D and E. Careers information advice and guidance should be all about inspiring kids, but also telling them what’s on            the ground and what’s going on in their region, so that they know their often wide-ranging options.”

In summary, the fact that young people are searching for in-demand careers is a hopeful sign, but it needs to be met with better information to channel them towards the right training. On the other hand, the fact that young people are also searching for careers with little demand might seem like less of a hopeful sign, but again the key is better information, by which they can be channelled towards other options where demand is higher.

Get these two things right – connecting people to courses, and redirecting people to where the demand lies – and both students and employers win, with colleges in a great position to fulfil their mission of “training people in the skills that employers need”.

Andy Durman, Managing Director Emsi UK

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