From education to employment


Mystery shopping research project highlights “worrying” results.
A mystery shopping exercise, commissioned by Edge and the Skills Commission, has revealed the poor condition of careers advice available in England. The research investigated the quality of telephone, online and face to face advice offered by Connexions, and from locally provided careers advice centres like nextstep and learndirect Careers Advice.
More than half of the mystery shoppers expected Connexions, which offers careers advice to young people, to offer more services, and two out of ten said they were very unhappy with the quality of content received. Although the support given over the telephone was satisfactory, face to face advice was judged inadequate, and the advisors were accused of not taking young people’s visits sufficiently seriously.
The quality of support from locally provided advice centres was also found to vary. The advisors at learndirect Careers Advice were rated as approachable, and able to relate to a caller’s individual situation. The service offers free advice for adults over the phone and by email, and was found to frequently offer useful advice. However, nextstep, a free service providing face to face advice for adults with low levels of qualifications, was found to sometimes lack suitable staff. On occasions its employees were either unavailable to answer questions or did not have the experience to handle clients’ needs.
Andy Powell, the chief executive of Edge, said: “This mystery shopping exercise has really proved invaluable. It has backed up evidence given to the Skills Commission that careers advice is patchy in places and needs to be given a much higher priority by the Government.”
The findings come alongside additional research which reveals 21 per cent of British adults do not feel they’re in a job that makes best use of their skills. Almost two-thirds of those currently in such a dissatisfying job believe good quality careers advice could improve their lives. The online study sampled more than two thousand adults, and also showed just four per cent of those who moved on from an unfulfilling job used formal careers advice services to do so. A total of 65 per cent said they had received formal careers advice at some point during their life.
The role of informal advice was also found to play a significant part in guiding individuals looking to advance their career. Of those sampled, 61 per cent of 18-24 year olds said they received careers advice from the internet.
The Chair of the Skills Commission’s inquiry into information, advice and guidance, Professor Michael Thorne, said: “In the new world order, informal sources of advice from social networking sites, mentors and employers will become increasingly important. These results highlight how essential a mix of formal and informal sources of advice are to the public.”

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