When I moved from the business world into education, one of my first posts was as head of careers at a large secondary school for pupils aged 11 to 18.
I was in the job for more than four years and saw first-hand just how important careers information, advice and guidance (IAG) is for young people about to make key career choices. That was more than 30 years ago and the rapid changes which have taken place since in our economy, our employment market and our personal lifestyles make careers education much more important today.
Successful careers education is provided in two ways – first, content is embedded within the school curriculum through different subjects and, second, all pupils can access independent guidance and information about today’s complex jobs market. Some schools provide excellent careers advice and guidance, but unfortunately most, at present, do not.
All too often, young people are not getting the support they need to make the right choices. Schools were given a statutory duty under the Education Act 2011 to secure impartial, independent careers advice and guidance, but were given no more support or funding. Only recently, the Commons Education Select Committee stated that the failure to have mandatory standards for careers advice was the cause of poor provision and that schools must secure independent careers guidance for secondary pupils.
A recent Association of Colleges (AoC) survey found that only half of pupils in years 7 to 11 felt well-informed about the jobs that are available today. If, as a country, we are going to increase the number of young people choosing Apprenticeships, and widen participation into higher education, then we must improve careers education in schools.
The first step is to establish employer-led partnerships of schools, colleges, universities, Jobcentre Plus and local authorities.
Through the AoC’s Careers Guidance: Guaranteed campaign, we recommend setting up a careers hub in each area overseen by the Local Enterprise Partnership. Information about the range of options would then be available to young people and to schools, to ensure the right course for the right student. This model would also ensure that schools keep abreast of the rapidly changing jobs market.
South Gloucestershire and Stroud College is supporting 18 local schools in delivering careers advice and guidance to pupils as young as 12-years-old.
John Walker, head of schools engagement at the college, believes that speaking to younger children helps get them on the right track sooner. He explained: “We use labour market intelligence to identify areas of growth in the local region and then tell the children about what is available and get them interested. We’re a mixed area of rural and urban and for us the problem isn’t around jobs being available, it’s about young people knowing what jobs are out there. So, if we know construction is going to be a growth industry, we can guide them towards finding out more about becoming an architect, for example. Local schools like working with us because they know we’re professional and have a handle on careers advice.”
Among other things, the college offers CV editing and mock interviews and progression opportunities. In 2013/14, its careers service delivered individual in-depth guidance to more than 700 students and 130 careers talks on a variety of subjects.
At AoC, we also believe that careers education should be embedded in the curriculum, giving young people exposure to different types of business, an awareness of the stereotyping which can affect career decisions, and how to develop the skills employers are looking for.
A programme of work experience and “taster” sessions helps to prepare young people for the workplace and gives a fuller understanding of a particular role – this all helps them to gain knowledge, a sense of direction and know what steps to take when choosing a career.
We know schools cannot deliver professional and independent careers advice alone – despite the statutory duty placed on them – because they do not have the funding or support. Our pre-election manifesto demands that the government looks again at how it works with schools and colleges to make careers education an entitlement for every child and young person. We owe it to our young people to work together to find the right solution, so that every young person can achieve their potential.
Further informationThere are a number of ways to get involved in AoC’s Careers Guidance: Guaranteed campaign, which is calling on the government to ensure that all young people have access to careers advice on post-14 education, training and employment options. Visit www.aoc.co.uk/cgg Photo: iStock
Richard Atkins is president of the Association of Colleges, which represents 336 colleges in England.