From education to employment

Mind the (careers advice) gap

As the country celebrates Colleges Week 2012, Working Links’ Stephen Evans explains why young people are crying out for help navigating the job market.

Colleges Week 2012 is raising awareness about employability and work readiness, two themes which lie at the heart of our deeply worrying levels of youth unemployment.

To help young people build a career, they need high quality careers advice and effective preparation for the world of work.

As the FE sector this week focuses on employability, two new pieces of research reveal a disappointing and now well documented truth: the careers guidance system has not been effective in helping students choose the qualifications or career paths that employers need.

Working Links’ latest research amongst unemployed young people found that only 8% left school well informed about vocational training options and just 11% were informed about apprenticeships. In addition, over half of unemployed young people felt their qualifications are not helping them secure work, and a fifth say they pursued qualifications that are not in demand by employers.

In a second piece of research, the Association of Colleges (AoC) tries to understand why we’ve had such a patchy success rate in delivering careers services in the UK.  According to this study, 44% of teachers admitted giving a pupil bad or uninformed advice in the past, and 82% wanted better guidance on advising pupils about their options post-GCSE.

Both studies are particularly relevant for colleges, who play such a crucial role in developing a job-ready generation but each year are faced with an intake of students who are too often ill informed about how best to get the training they need to secure meaningful work and a fulfilling career.

Based on our recent research and experience, Working Links has developed recommendations in four areas:


  • Collaboration with schools.
  • Prevention is better than cure, so we agree with the AoC and Association of School and College Leaders that colleges should aim for closer collaboration with secondary schools to deliver careers advice, develop students’ employability skills, and support young people to make the best choices about their pathways to work.

  • Embedding careers advice. Once students begin their course, colleges should consider how best to place careers advice and building employability skills at the heart of the college experience. This could include assessing, as part of induction, the level of careers advice they have received to date. This targeted approach will help colleges to quickly identify those pupils who need extra help in choosing the qualifications that will help them secure work.

  • Focus on employability. Colleges need to continue to focus on helping people find work as well as completing their course. To do this, they could work with employment specialists, who have a role to play in supporting young people in this journey. This is becoming ever more central as colleges are increasingly measured and rewarded on their students’ destination outcomes.  A payment-by-results model for procuring outsourced employment expertise could therefore allow colleges the opportunity to pay providers only if and when their students find work.

  • High quality apprenticeships. The number of apprenticeships has risen rapidly in recent years, and has scope to rise further to match the best in the world like Germany. However, the recent BIS select committee’s report showed how important it is to match quality, as well as quantity, to the best in the world. Colleges have a key part to play in this and developing progression routes to higher quality apprenticeships.


Persistently high youth unemployment will have devastating impacts on individual lives and the long term success of the UK.  Colleges do so much excellent work in training and supporting young people and the focus on employability during Colleges Week 2012 is to be welcomed. To take the next step in allowing every young person to make the most of their talents, we need an increased focus on embedding employability skills and careers advice across all education and training services.

Stephen Evans is director of employment and skills at Working Links, which provides advice, guidance, access to training and supports people seeking work

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