Too many young people fall off the radar of local services once they leave school, the Committee of Public Accounts recently announced. While the overall number of young people not in education, employment or training has fallen, the actual figure could be further swelled from among the 100,000-plus young people that committee chair Margaret Hodge MP asserts are effectively invisible to the state.
For these young people, the importance of careers advice while they are at school is particularly important. The government’s Youth Contract that provides extra support to the most vulnerable and hard-to-reach 16 and 17-year-olds, is set to stop taking on young people in March. With no single initiative currently planned to take on its role, it seems that schools will be an important source of guidance to help these young people find work, secure training or Apprenticeships.
How to navigate the progression from school to work is of keen interest to most pupils, whether they are hard-to-reach or not. Realising this, Young NCB – a group of young people who advise and contribute to our work – have chosen to focus their campaigning activities this year around whether school prepares them for adult life. Within this, Young NCB members are calling for careers advice in school that meets their needs and that covers interview techniques, CV-writing and workplace behaviour.
What emerged from discussion with these young people was that the timing of careers advice is crucial. Several of them pointed out that they had received careers guidance at the end of year 10, after they had chosen which GCSEs to study, or that this advice had come in year 11 after they had applied to college. Such rudimentary errors suggests some schools are failing to make careers advice a priority and may be using under-qualified staff to provide support.
Young NCB members also bemoaned the lack of meaningful work experience opportunities where they could get a real taste of working life, crucial to give their CV an edge. Of course, for schools to provide excellent work experience placements requires them to have strong links with employers in the local community and beyond, partnerships which take time and effort to establish. Welcome help may be at hand from the new careers and enterprise company for schools. Once established, the company will help broker relationships between employers and schools.
The new company will work closely with the National Careers Service which provides information and advice both through its website and helpline. There are other sources of advice too, such as Plotr. This online toolkit looks set to be a favourite among young people, with well-designed “games” that suggest jobs that match your personality and skills.
But do these services provide the quality of guidance that a well-trained advisor in school can provide? Our Young NCB members assert that these services have their benefits, but they would appreciate personalised advice adapted to meet their individual needs. This sentiment is shared by the TUC, UNISON and the National Union of Students, who have launched a campaign calling for every child to have access to face-to-face advice provided by NVQ-qualified careers practitioners. The unions argue that the only way to ensure this happens is to reinstate a statutory duty on schools that requires them to provide high-quality careers education to all pupils.
The last 18 months have seen a succession of stories indicating turmoil, with UNISON claiming last year that 83 per cent of schools do not employ any professionally qualified careers staff. Despite this, there are many schools providing excellent careers education. Perhaps the new careers and enterprise company should be quick to champion those schools that are successfully making a difference.
Anna Feuchtwang is chief executive of the National Children’s Bureau. To find out more about Young NCB, visit www.youngncb.org.uk