Stepping stones to job success

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Careers education is definitely having a moment. Ever since the Education Act 2011 handed responsibility for ‘information, advice and guidance’ (IAG) to individual schools, and the Conservative manifesto promise to create an all-age careers service withered on the vine, there have been murmurings that something would need to change. Michael Gove was assiduous in batting away suggestions that careers was any concern of the Department of Education, even when Ofsted released a report stating that only one in five schools were delivering effective careers guidance in Years 9, 10 and 11.

But Nicky Morgan seems to think differently – today announcing the government-funded launch of a ‘careers and enterprise company’ to join up the usually disparate worlds of education and business. In the last few months we’ve had reports on the subject from the Sutton Trust, Gatsby and IPPR, among others. All agree that we don’t have a glorious history of high-quality careers education in this country, but all share an understanding that this lack of provision is one of the main culprits in stopping one in five young people making the transition from school to work.

We agree – the evidence may not be clear-cut, but there is no doubt that schools – and countries – which invest in careers IAG (which includes engaging with employers, work experience and comprehensive advice about options, choices and pathways) boast better transitions out of school and final destinations for young people. In our recent report, Ending the NEET Crisis for Good, we recommend that every school employ a senior member of staff responsible for:

  • Commissioning the school’s IAG
  • Ensuring every pupil has had at least five experiences of work and workplaces by the time they take their GCSEs
  • Ensuring every pupil at 16 has an individual progression plan which sets out their post-16 educational and work experience needs, and their predicted route to their first full-time employment
  • Building up a network of connections with local employers from all sectors who may provide future work experience and employment for pupils.

The crucial word in these recommendations is ‘progression’. Many people – including policymakers – are sceptical that anyone can advise young people about the full range of ‘careers’ available in the modern labour market, or that its realistic or useful to think about your ‘career’ before you’ve even left school. This scepticism is understandable, but it holds us back from providing young people with what they need – advice, information and guidance about their progression.

For those following the academic route there is a clear understanding of the progression from GCSE to A-level to degree, and on to the world of graduate recruitment. But the majority of young people don’t take this path and for them the route is far less clear, even with the very welcome simplification of qualifications since the Wolf Report. They don’t need help plucking a career out of the air – they need advice on what qualifications they can pursue until they turn 18, and which apprenticeships or other entrances to the labour market these qualifications might enable. Shutting down options should be anathema at 16, and gaining qualifications that command respect from as wide a range of employers as possible is key.

This is particularly crucial for young people who are not a dead cert to get their five GCSEs A*-C, including English and maths. When they walk out of the gates in June, they need a Plan A and a Plan B – dependent on what happens in August. Without these clear plans it is still too easy for a young person to enrol in a further education (FE) course that will stall their progression, and hinder their entrance to the local labour market. Our goal should be to make the transition as clear for those young people entering FE as it is for those entering Higher Education – and clear, personalised advice on post-16 progression is absolutely crucial.

I put the subtle but important distinction between ‘careers’ and ‘progression’ to the Minister Nick Boles, and his eyes lit up. I hope we may see recognition of this in the government efforts to improve the quality and relevance of IAG. There is huge scope to improve young people’s knowledge about their options post-16, and with it their future success in work. But it’s crucial we tie this information to what young people do next, and what they do after that – not what they think they might like to do in 20 years.

Impetus − The Private Equity Foundation
About The Author
Jenny North is Director of Policy and Strategy at Impetus-PEF. Jenny joined Impetus-PEF from Relate, where she served as Head of Public Policy for six years. Prior to this she held policy positions with Maternity Alliance and New Policy Institute. Her experience also includes working at the Home Office as a Crime and Policing Analyst. Jenny holds a degree in Philosophy and Theology from Oxford University. Follow Jenny on Twitter: @JayEeeEnn

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