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Dr Deirdre Hughes OBE, Director, DMH Associates

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Britain’s young talent pipeline has to be well equipped and able to contribute to future skills and economic growth. From one of the most comprehensive surveys with young people in transition to secondary education and in Year Groups 7, 9 and 11 in secondary schools/academies in England, young people’s career aspirations and how they get career guidance are examined and reported within a new independent research study, "The Big Career Conversation with Young People in England".

With over 3,600 responses from pupils, supported by interviews with employers, headteachers and careers leaders, the headlines reveal:

  • Young people want career guidance but are struggling to find it.
  • Those young people from disadvantaged backgrounds, who need most support, are struggling to get access to professional career guidance.
  • Early intervention in primary and career guidance in secondary schooling is essential from Year 7 onwards to prevent unconscious bias and gender stereotyping which can be hard to change later on.
  • Technology can play more of a role in modern dimensions of career guidance, complementing the work of careers and enterprise specialists.

When young people are exposed to personalised guidance it makes a tangible difference to individuals with significant returns on investment ROI) for the Treasury.

Young people need career guidance support more than ever.

The social and economic impact of the Covid-19 pandemic will be felt for many years to come. We all have a moral duty to do more.

The report findings are stark with the majority of pupils still struggling to understand how to get career guidance and the majority of pupils believing they do not get enough careers support in schools.

What young people have shared about their views and experiences during the pandemic will not come as a major surprise.

There is a serious decline in work experience and workplace visits; young people have changing attitudes to exams results and technical and vocational education and training; they want more career guidance; and they are making greater use of technology.

Four major themes emerged:

1. Young people want career guidance but are struggling to find this

Yet they are willing and enthusiastic to invest their own time in careers activities within and outside of school.

  • 39% of year 9 pupils and 23% of year 11 pupils reported they are only receiving careers support once a year or not at all.
  • This rises to 85% among Year 7 pupils.
  • Nearly all pupils said they had a strong appetite to learn more about career guidance during their school life but did not know where to turn to beyond parents, teachers and friends.

2. The gap has widened between advantaged and disadvantaged children

As school budgets and resources remain squeezed crucial ‘soft’ elements of provision (which aren’t soft at all but vital) such as career guidance get pushed further down the priorities listing.

The children who suffer most and miss out are again those who do not have the home support or finance to make up the shortfalls.

  • 59% of pupils reported they had not carried out any exercises at school to identify their skills and/or personality.
  • By contrast employers indicated that they consider important ‘soft skills’ such as behaviour, personality, time management, and teamwork.
  • Most employers in this research highlighted their specific requirements for these ‘soft skills’ over exam qualifications in their recruitment, induction and workforce development phases.

3. Learning loss between primary and secondary schools is a key issue in the education sector.

This trend can be reversed, turned into learning gains, through increased career dialogue with children from an early age and career guidance for young people throughout their secondary schooling.

  • Only 8% of year 7 pupils recall speaking to a Careers Leader in their secondary school.
  • The top 3 ranked activities in terms of importance to pupils were: 
    1. Individual careers meetings with a careers adviser (53%),
    2. group learning activities (50%, and
    3. individual meetings with a careers leader in school (49%).
  • 80% of Year 11 pupils agreed that they would have wanted to learn more about careers in the past 5 years whilst at school.

4. Technology has a major role to play in modern dimensions of career guidance.

Getting the right balance between personalised online and local face-to-face careers support is essential, bearing in mind the digital poverty experienced by some young people.

  • 72% pupils claimed they did not participate in ‘Virtual reality experiences’
  • 67% did not participate in ‘Virtual employer visits’ and
  • 65% did not participate in ‘Careers Games Online’.

This may have been due to the fact that schools were not prepared for the sudden impact of Covid or that staff lacked the time or resources to introduce such activities into their schools.

Work readiness of young people 

Employers continue to voice concerns about the work readiness of the young people they recruit and argue for improvements in career guidance in England’s schools. They highlight growing skills shortages and skills gaps in their industries and sectors and the need to urgently address occupational ‘blind spots’ and outdated stereotypes.

To stop the erosion of career guidance for young people in England, make further gains for accelerated system improvement, and equip all young people to achieve successful transitions in learning and work, 9 key actions are set out in the report targeted at government and other key players.

9 Key Recommendations

1. More exposure to careers activities from an early age

Young people want and need more exposure to and experience of careers activities from an early age. The Education (Careers Guidance in Schools) Bill, would extend the duty to provide career guidance in schools to young people from Year 7 onwards.

The significant loss of work experience for young people has to be urgently addressed.

2. New school performance measures should reward careers activities

New school performance measures are essential and these should evidence, celebrate and reward institutions with career guidance and world of work programmes, including ‘out of school’ careers activities.

Connectivity to employers, destinations and new destination measures can be used more effectively to inspire more young people, parents and teachers.

3. More Government collaboration

Three major government departments, including the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (BEIS), the Department for Education (DfE), Department for Work and Pensions (DWP), should work more collaboratively and involve leaders from industry, education, and the careers and enterprise sector to address specific skills deficits and co-design better signalling of opportunities to young people, parents and teachers.

4. Form a Career Guidance Steering Group

A Career Guidance Steering Group should be formed with Ministerial support to ensure its success.

Ministers with a portfolio in Health and Social Care, Transport, Digital Innovation, Food and Rural Affairs, Sports, Media and Culture and Women and Equalities could help prioritise career guidance for young people and set a dynamic shared agenda for Britain’s economic, social and cultural prosperity.

5. More tailored and targeted careers support

Young people’s access to local career guidance – places and spaces online and offline – to support career conversations must be a golden thread woven into government department and officials’ citizen consultations and delivery plans.

This must be viewed not only as a solution that enables the continuance of services during the pandemic, but also, e.g., for the personalisation of more tailored and targeted careers support.

6. Inter-agency consultation

The National Careers Service, Careers and Enterprise Company (CEC) and Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) should jointly consult with those who have a strong track record of direct delivery of quality-assured careers support for young people.

There are ‘two wicked questions’ to be addressed:

  1. How can more young people gain improved access to career guidance?
  2. How can advances in technology encourage career exploration from an early age, as well as equip teachers and careers professionals with the right tools to do their job?

7. Third party quality assurance

These Departments should consult on careers leadership, teacher and careers adviser training and digital skills, working with bodies such as the Association of School and College Leaders (ASCL), the National Association of Headteachers (NAHT), Careers England, the Career Development Institute (CDI) and Local Government Association.

All schools should have ring-fenced funds for a careers leader, careers adviser and their active participation in local career hubs that can benefit all young people, teachers and parents. A plethora of careers products currently marketed to schools are taking valuable time away from work with young people. These should be quality-assured by an independent third-party and streamlined.

8. Establish 'career learning logs'

Government, education technology companies and charities with a proven track record in delivery of virtual experiences using the latest technology innovations can meet to examine how best to help provide pupils with tailored and targeted career guidance, starting from an early age in primary schools.

Those with a proven track record in delivery can demonstrate how from Key Stage 1 & 2 upwards - throughout the schooling system - ‘career learning logs’ could greatly benefit children and young people’s career exploration as well as supporting family career conversations. Most importantly, hopes, dreams, knowledge, skills and experiences would be recorded and pupil learning loss would be ameliorated.

9. Increase competition opportunites

Employers should work with schools / academies and career support organisations to offer prizes such as work experience opportunities, work shadowing, paid internships etc. for young people, particularly those most vulnerable. Competition and inter-school competitions perform a role in education by enlightening pupils on what they may or may not have been taught in class. In short, competitions have the potential to add to the experience and knowledge gained by pupils as part of their schooling – this serves as one potential avenue for careers learning.

Dr Deirdre Hughes OBE, Director, DMH Associates

Methodology: From July – September 2021, Dr Deirdre Hughes led a research project designed to capture the experiences of young people and what they think about careers support in schools/academies across England.

The research commissioned by ‘Launch Your Career’ involved:

  • 3,615 pre-GCSE pupils from 52 schools/academies in 7 regions across England who responded to a national survey. This was distributed through schools and LinkedIn contacts, both online and in hard copy, including as part of 13 Summer School experiences.
  • 12 head teachers and careers leaders shared their views on England’s careers support system.
  • 39 employers from 14 key sectors in all regions, including nationwide employers, shared their views on young people’s ‘work-readiness’. Office for National Statistics (ONS) data and employer quotes from national skills shortages and skills gaps were also analysed.

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