Careers advice: Engaging with business and industry


Numerous reports have raised fears about the quality of careers advice. Principal Richard Bannister shares his advice for raising standards in schools by engaging with external expertise


According to Ofsted, three quarters of the schools visited for its recent research into careers guidance were not implementing their duty to provide impartial careers advice effectively (Going in the Right Direction?, Ofsted, September 2013)

The issue of inconsistent careers education, advice, information and guidance (CEAIG) provision across the UK is not a new problem, but as warnings of a growing skills gap persist, it is apparent that something has to change.

Recent reforms have meant that many schools have had to make tough choices about careers advice provision; indeed, we are one of the few schools in our area that has retained a dedicated head of careers and an independent careers advisor. They have designed, implemented and manage the Careers Education, Work-related Learning and Enterprise Programme at the City of London Academy in Southwark.

It is, of course, still possible for schools to offer students a wide variety of careers opportunities and experience through engaging with local businesses, building connections within the community, and offering a personalised programme that can meet the needs of all students, regardless of ability or career interest.

As a business specialist school, we have a strong commitment to preparing our young people for the world of work. Our CEAIG programme is designed to help students develop the knowledge and skills they need to make informed choices, manage transitions in learning and move into successful employment.

We have an extensive offering when it comes to careers advice, but here are some of our key aims.

Offer relatable role-models

There are many barriers for children from disadvantaged backgrounds that simply don’t exist for their wealthier counterparts. For one, a lack of career role-models in their family or in their direct community can have a negative impact on how they view themselves and their career prospects.

Our school serves a deprived area in the borough of Southwark and nearly two-thirds of our students are eligible for Pupil Premium, so it is important for young people to benefit from relatable role-models.

We have established an alumni group with this in mind. With an increase in the number of students being accepted to Russell Group universities and our first Oxbridge acceptance last summer, we want our current students to learn from former students’ successes.

Seeing students from a similar background succeed and on the pathway to a successful career, is invaluable in motivating young people and an important step in dismantling any self-imposed limitations to their ambition.

For our sixth form, we run a number of events including Alumni Assemblies, which involves former students sharing their journey with current sixth-formers. They can provide practical advice on subject choices and what to consider when researching university places. We have also received support from the charity Future First, which helps schools to stay in touch with alumni and establish volunteering and mentoring opportunities.

Making their own connections

In order for students to make a successful transition into the workplace, it is important that they begin to make valuable career connections for themselves, as well as being able to establish the correct path for them through their own research.

Schools can, of course, point young people in the right direction, but instilling a sense of independence from early on will lead to more successful outcomes.

From as early as year 7, we provide our students with access to our careers library, which we ensure is regularly updated to reflect the diversity of career options available. We also offer other resources that contain information on gap years, student finance and job skills preparation. In addition, students are taught how to use specialist software, such as Kudos, which enables them to navigate impartial online advice and get a personalised experience based on their interests and educational aspirations.

Again, when it comes to work experience, schools can support students in strengthening their CVs and personal statements but, where possible, students should find their own work experience, as this demonstrates the level of commitment and motivation that employers are looking for.

We have links with a charity called Brokerage Citylink, which matches A level students with prestigious internship placements in City and Canary Wharf firms. The process is rigorous and involves students presenting themselves effectively and performing well at the interview stage. Those who succeed can expect a unique insight into exciting careers in law, banking and accounting, as well as a chance to start building valuable business contacts. 

Careers fairs

The careers fair format is a tried and tested model and an effective way of introducing students to the different industries and education and training opportunities. We hold an annual fair for our key stage 4 and 5 students, which is attended by around 100 businesses, including Jones Lang Lasalle, Halifax and Ipsos MORI (our Business in the Community Business Class partner), as well as key London universities and training organisations.

In addition to hosting our own careers fairs, students are able to attend other careers fairs organised by our sponsor, City of London Corporation, and other business partners.

Our year 9 students attended a STEM careers fair, hosted by the City of London Corporation, which enabled them to interact with representatives from Crossrail, Cancer Research and the Science Council, among others. The fair helped them to understand the applications of science and maths skills and the wide range of related career options, including creative industries, IT and communications, finance, arts, health and conservation.

Inspirational speakers

While staff may have a broad knowledge-base, it is still important to draw on expertise from people working within business and industry to give students an insight into various careers. Robert Peston’s Speakers for Schools was set up with the sole purpose of levelling the playing field between students from independent and those from state schools, who don’t always have influential contacts.

Inviting in inspirational speakers to our school is an important part of careers advice. It can help reinforce the curriculum and highlight the type of roles that are possible with certain subject choices and qualifications. 

A recent example of this support was the visit by Sir Roger Carr, CEO of BAE, who delivered a talk to our students on gender equality and the “30 per cent Club”, in which he advocated the need to introduce qualified women to boardrooms. His lecture inspired our students and was the subject of much discussion within the sixth form.

We have also arranged with the City of London Corporation for a number of its key representatives to come and speak to our students. The former Lord Mayor, Fiona Woolf, shared her stories from her career as an energy lawyer and spoke about the importance of more female students choosing subjects like physics and mathematics to gain access to high growth STEM industries. She used an example of the female engineers she met on the Crossrail project. 

To be effective, CEAIG has to be impartial – even a school that does have an independent careers advisor should draw on the knowledge of businesses in the community. They are best placed to demonstrate to students what it is like to work in their sector, the skills they use, including employability skills, and information on their individual pathway.

  • Richard Bannister is the principal of the City of London Academy Southwark. He has over 24 years teaching experience within business studies and careers in education, and was formally a head of careers.

Further information
Going in the Right Direction?, Ofsted, 2013:
PHOTO: iStock


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