It is time to be braver and bolder with careers education

Written by: Ruth Gilbert | Published:
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Research shows that students' careers aspirations do not match the jobs that are available. Ruth Gilbert says it is time for a braver approach to careers education...

It comes as no surprise that the career plans of young people are at odds with the actual jobs available, as revealed in research this year by charity Education and Employers (Rogers et al, 2020).

In fact, it perfectly sums up the huge challenge this country is facing in terms of careers education.

The fact is that young people do not know about many of the newer careers available or how to reach them. This is largely due to parents not knowing either and, in many cases, nor do (mostly subject specialist) teachers. There is a lack of clear and coherent industry-relevant information getting through to the very people who we need to fill these jobs in the future.

There is however clear evidence that the current system is not working, with less than half of the eight National Careers Education Benchmarks currently being met (SecEd, 2019). This is despite significant national investment in 40 virtual careers hubs, which support CPD for careers teachers and broker employer engagement.

There has also been some external commissioning from independent providers, charities and councils of one-to-one careers education, but the lack of cohesion caused by this piecemeal approach is preventing any real, positive impact.

Careers education responsibility sits with each individual school or college, but in my view, a regional approach to support services is the most efficient, relevant and accessible set up. This has certainly been the case in Melton, Yorkshire, where in my role as education director at Manor Property Group, I am working to deliver a Qdos Careers Hub to serve the region – and ultimately a network of similar hubs throughout the country.

The principle behind this initiative is simple – offering young people impartial and diverse careers advice in a purpose-built, cutting-edge modern work environment, delivered by industry experts and beyond the span of the current national curriculum. However, this is proving no easy task.

I have observed a real resistance to change when it comes to careers education services. From LEPs and local authorities to schools and colleges themselves, I have been struck by the desire by some to maintain the status quo, defending what they do, concerned about competition and future funding – even when current models are clearly not fit-for-purpose or delivering effective outcomes.

As a former teacher and principal, I respect and value the work of educators – largely subject specialists and heavily reliant on limited careers leaders and project funding. Indeed, schools report that they lack time and resource to effectively cover careers education amid a plethora of other priorities.

The other key focus has been on widening “technical education” as an alternative, but there is a disconnect between Apprenticeships, T levels, and the existing national curriculum and progression routes.

You simply cannot achieve education excellence without doing more to inspire young people to enter career pathways that match emerging and existing skilled jobs and self-employment opportunities.

We all need to think beyond pilots and short one-to-two-year projects (like the Careers and Enterprise Company and LEP-funded work – albeit positive). We need to accept that industry really can play a big part in carrying the risks (up-front costs, design, planning, build, fitting) using its expert development experience – and then call on partners with education expertise, integrating long-term services with education delivery in schools and colleges.

This industry-educator model really is a win-win initiative for young people, industry, schools and local authorities. The progressive approach is already being taken in countries like Finland, Canada and Australia – and it is vital that we learn from these examples.

As the Disconnected research highlights (Rogers et al, 2020), technology is moving many sectors forward at an astronomical pace, creating skills gaps in a diverse range of areas. Traditional careers advisors within schools are rarely able to offer insight into new and specialist roles – you need industry experts who are working at the cutting edge of this developing technology and in professions which they are able to bring to life to inspire young people.

Talk about healthcare for example and young people (and their teachers) will think of doctors, nurses, dentists and physiotherapists. The fact is that that are more than 200 roles in this rapidly expanding sector, not to mention the cross-sectoral career opportunities in technology-related fields such as design and engineering.

If children do not know about the many new and exciting roles that exist, the opportunities will be lost – along with enthusiasm and ambition.

The challenge is that schools, local authority planners and other stakeholders need to be more open to innovation. Yes, it is true that there is no proven track record in the UK for this sort of industry-led initiative, but there is one from comparable economies internationally, which is fully aligned to our own education imperatives to improve life and work prospects of young people.

We need to break this “chicken and egg” stalemate. Bravery is needed to implement a new and progressive approach in the same way that Manor is working to do in Melton. Young people need direct exposure to the realms of engineering, diagnostic healthcare, cloud technology – all examples of industry now and in the future – to address the growing skills gaps in the UK.

Children must be encouraged to explore pathways outside the eight or nine subjects they study at school, or indeed the career paths their parents followed.

Importantly, it is not about replicating the work that is being done – it is about enriching the careers education service and demonstrating to industry that it needs to invest in its own future when it comes to skills development within business.

We must work together and tackle our skills crisis in a brave and progressive way – ensuring young people really do know all there is to know about modern career options so they can plan their futures effectively.

  • Ruth Gilbert is an honorary fellow at the UCL Institute of Education and group education director at Qdos/Manor.

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