Careers advice: A helping hand


Why is careers guidance in schools so important and how can it be improved? Dawn Baker introduces a new free careers advice hub aimed at learners who want to follow vocational pathways

For the past few years, careers guidance in schools has often been criticised as being inadequate but, having been given an even higher priority in school inspections by Ofsted since September 2013, it is a part of school life that can’t be ignored.

With a huge number of career options to inform young people about, pressure to encourage entry into STEM subjects, pressure on students to go to university despite mounting tuition fees – not to mention budget constraints in schools – advising on careers is challenging, yet more vital than ever. 

The latest guidance from the Department for Education (DfE), issued last year (see box below), emphasises the importance of high-quality, independent careers advice in helping young people to emerge from school fully rounded and ready for the world of work.

We are entirely in agreement with this guidance, and this is where vocational qualifications come into their own. NCFE qualifications, such as CV Writing and Job Search and Interview Skills, help to get learners career-ready and boost their chances of gaining employment by equipping them with the valuable skills they need to find and secure the right job. 

The portfolio-based format of these qualifications means that they are flexible and can be delivered around the existing curriculum too.

A key point made in the DfE paper is that young people want and need to be well-informed when making career decisions. Furthermore, young people who are uncertain or unrealistic about their career ambitions are three times more likely to spend significant periods of time not in education, employment or training (NEET), so schools have a crucial role to play in preventing this from happening.

We appreciate that careers guidance – which is required to inspire every pupil to fulfil their potential and to help them consider a broad and ambitious range of careers – can sometimes be difficult for schools to deliver due to time, resource or expertise.

In order to help with this, we have launched a new careers advice hub – CareerHow ( – aimed at learners aged 14 to 19 who want to follow a vocational rather than purely academic pathway. It is a simple, straight-talking and intuitive careers website, which is intended to take learners on a personalised journey to guide them towards getting the career they want.

CareerHow will provide guidance on what learners can do with their existing qualifications, which qualifications they need to pursue their preferred career, and where they can study these. It will also give an insight into jobs within different industries and how to get into each sector, the earning potential, the positives and the genuine pitfalls.

We have made sure that CareerHow fits with the DfE’s requirements that the guidance should be impartial, informs pupils of Apprenticeships and other vocational pathways, and promotes the best interests of each pupil.

Recent research into the career aspirations of teenagers has shown that there is a need for this type of tool. A study undertaken by the Edge Foundation found that while the majority of the 1,100 14 to 18-year-olds involved in the research were confident in their career choice, they did not know what salary to expect in various industries, miscalculating earnings by up to 38 per cent.

In addition, the top career path identified by those questioned was teaching (12 per cent), but this may be because teenagers are more familiar with what teaching involves compared with other careers, such as in public administration or financial and insurance services.

This research shows how vital it is for learners to be better informed about the career choices available and exactly what each one involves. 

As our user base grows, all the content on CareerHow will be tailored to user requests and interests – our goal is to make the site the go-to hub for careers advice and practical recommendations on the steps needed to enter, and succeed in, a particular industry.

We are, of course, passionate about helping learners who do not necessarily want to go on to higher education to achieve their potential through a vocational route, so we would urge anyone advising pupils on careers to provide as balanced view as possible of their vocational and academic options. This is particularly important in light of the new government’s intention to prioritise academic subjects.

VQ Day takes place on Wednesday (June 10) and this is a great opportunity to emphasise how vocational learning can provide young people with the skills and experience to get ahead, and how vocational qualifications can work hand-in-hand with their academic counterparts. 

With an increasing number of vocational options available at key stages 4 and 5, there remains lots of opportunity for pupils to make informed choices on where they would like to take their careers and the qualifications that will enable them to progress. So, what’s the way forward? Ensuring vocational qualifications are at the heart of what schools offer is key, as this enables young people to reach their potential no matter what their individual skill-set.

High-quality careers guidance in schools is undoubtedly a priority, and that is where we can help with CareerHow. As the website develops in line with what learners tell us they want to know, we hope that it will go a long way to help schools improve their careers provision and, crucially, set our young people up for future success in life and work.

We are intending for this to be a useful free tool for schools too – appointed careers advisors can encourage pupils to sign up online and register their career interest. 

They can also complete a profile so that CareerHow can match them with careers to suit their individual skills and aspirations, and enable the future content on the website to be fully customised in line with users’ preferences – ultimately supporting learners in getting to where they want to be via the quickest and simplest route.

Other careers organisations and resources

The government guidance published last year (Careers Guidance: Advice for schools, Department for Education, April 2014 – available to download at signposts schools to a number of organisations and resources to help meet their careers duties. These include the following:

  • Business in the Community provides a framework for developing long-term relationships between schools and businesses:

  • The Education and Employers Task Force supports effective partnerships between schools, colleges and employers:

  • The Ideas Foundation has two key projects: “I Am Creative” aims to teach 13 to 19-year-olds about the creative industries and gives them an opportunity to have a go at answering a live creative brief. “Incubate” brings specialist industries employers into the classroom to work intensively with young people on projects from across the digital and media communications sector:

  • Mosaic inspires young people from deprived communities to realise their talents and potential:

  • 5th Matrix is a careers and networking platform which encourages young people to investigate and share careers ideas:

  • The National Careers Service provides information, advice and guidance on learning, training and work opportunities. Support is available to young people via a website, helpline and webchat: or 0800 100 900.

  • All providers of the National Careers Service are accredited to the Matrix Standard. An online register of organisations accredited to the matrix Standard is available online at

  • The National Apprenticeship Service supports, funds and co-ordinates the delivery of Apprenticeships throughout England:



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