What are Career Colleges?


Launched last month, Career Colleges aim to offer a ‘rounded education’ within a sector or industry for 14 to 19-year-olds. SecEd invited Ruth Gilbert from the Career Colleges Trust to tell us more.

In the UK, employers in a variety of industries tell us that graduates and job applicants completing further education are ill-prepared for the world of work. 

We have one million young people unemployed and yet we have vacancies across a wide range of industries and employers, with some significant growth and work opportunities. 

This is a situation that needs to be addressed and is the inspiration behind Lord Baker’s vision for a new type of education for 14 to 19-year-olds.

Career Colleges, launched last month at the Edge Foundation’s annual lecture, will provide a direct route to Apprenticeships, higher education and employment for young people.

Career Colleges will offer a rounded education within a particular sector or industry specialism – ensuring that all students are equipped with the necessary skills and hands-on experience to take the next step to a successful career.

The Career Colleges Trust is a charity set up to develop and promote a network of high-quality education and training institutions. 

Our chairman, Luke Johnson, myself and our board of trustees are committed to ensuring that we use our expertise in vocational education and business to shape distinctive and inspiring education opportunities for young people to engage in Career Colleges, covering the 14 to 19 age range.

Career College specialisms will cover a range of sectors, dealing with non-STEM subjects like catering, hospitality, tourism, finance and insurance, health and care, cultural and creative arts, sport and events management, and construction.

Students will still study traditional academic subjects, including maths, English and science, alongside these vocational and industry specialisms. 

Integral to the curriculum will be practical opportunities to develop the social skills and commercial acumen to prepare the young people for employment and self-employment.

Specialist industry involvement is intrinsic to the Career College vision. While further education colleges will establish their own Career Colleges, employers will be the driving force behind this model of education.

Industry partners will play a major part in designing and delivering the curriculum as Career Colleges are all about offering young people a very clear and real route into a career. Employers will take the lead, ensuring that the skills young people are learning match the needs of the labour market.

Also key to the Career Colleges vision is an entry age of 14. For some time, it has been argued that 14 is the best age of transfer for young people – with 11 being too early and 16 being too late. 

Starting on a career path at the age of 14 gives children a head-start in preparing for the world of work – just as they do in Austria, Denmark and the Netherlands. In these countries, youth unemployment is much lower and vocational education is far more respected.

The government recently made it possible for further education colleges to accept students from the age of 14. Career Colleges are one example of how this policy will improve the prospects for many young people, making them work-ready and more employable.

Transferring a child to a new school or college at the age of 14 is, for many parents, a leap of faith. Very little is known about the educational opportunities at this stage and to enter a new education establishment at such an untraditional time does take some vision. 

Teachers may be unlikely to suggest such a bold move, but it is time to shake of prejudices and look clearly at such a new and exciting opportunity for so many young people. 

If learners only experience academic and traditional education until they are 16, how do they know about wider options to help them make decisions about their futures? 

At 16, learners are expected to narrow the range of qualifications they take and make choices that may affect the rest of their lives – how can they do this through careers advice alone?

The Career College model maintains academic rigour and continuity of mainstream education with the chance to experience a broader education too.

We are not talking about a two-tier education system. Career Colleges are, categorically, not for the less able student. They are for the student who perhaps prefers a more practical, hands-on way of learning as opposed to a solely classroom-led approach. They are for learners questioning their options and wanting to explore new opportunities.

Starting at Career College at age 14 will not close doors. It will not limit a student or cut-off any other avenues of progression to higher education or a career. 

What it will do is provide them with vital skills and experience of the real, working world. Employers should be cheering at the possibility that finally, they are likely to see an influx of young people, capable of doing a job and with the necessary skills.

And Career Colleges are not just a vision. They are happening and we expect to see the first one next year, September 2014, in Oldham. This will be a Digital and Creative Career College. 

That will soon be followed by the Bromley Food and Enterprise Career College, because hospitality is the third largest sector for jobs in south east London, with new hotels, restaurants and leisure complexes. Bromley students will work in state-of-the-art industrial kitchens making meals to be served in a stunning, new town centre restaurant.

There are many more proposals for a variety of Career Colleges around the country. Our aim is that each and every one will be a shining example of vocational education at its very best. We hope that within four years, we will have 40 Career Colleges open, supporting at least 25,000 young people to broaden their horizons and prepare them for work.

There are proven benefits of technical and vocational training as a route to employment and we owe it to young people to ensure that they have the opportunity to follow this path. The over-arching goal for a Career College is that every young person when they leave at either 16 or 19 will be in work, training or education. I am confident that this will happen and that Career Colleges will help to raise esteem of vocational education in general.

  • Ruth Gilbert is CEO of the Career Colleges Trust.

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