Working Eye - careers advice

My second post in this new blog is one that I can’t take credit for. It is an article written by my colleague Steve Carrigan in the Spring of 2018. Although more than two years old, the situation in UK careers advice has not changed. It’s still broken. The government, through the DfE, has done some great thinking and the Gatsby Foundation benchmarks have aririved on the scene in full force since Steve put pen to paper. However, the content of his article and the research detail in his piece still stand.

This blog will debate Gatsby benchmarks and the hand that Covid-19 has dealt them in a later post. But for now I’d like to share the whole of Steve’s fascinating article.

Who says carrers advice is broken?

By Steve Carrigan, COO at Working Eye. Spring 2018

At the 2012 Latitude Festival comedian Shappi Khorsandi suggested that, rather than book a clown for their daughter’s birthday party, parents should hire a careers adviser.

Six years on and the situation has not improved. In fact, there is a strong case that young people today have a greater need for careers advice than ever before.

There is now an almost unanimous consensus across schools, industry bodies and government representatives to support this and a realisation amongst most commentators that things need to change.

In 2017 a report for the Social Mobility Commission found that children from poorer backgrounds face a ”class earnings penalty” when they enter the workplace and a recent Ofsted report in 2016 found that of 40 schools surveyed, just four were providing adequate careers advice to their students.

”Social Mobility is a huge concern and it is vitally important to support young people from disadvantaged backgrounds with careers advice,” said Jill Woodcock, programme manager at the Prince’s Trust. “It should be a high priority within schools to enable them to see what they can achieve, that perhaps goes beyond previous generations. Without opening students’ eyes to these possibilities, it is unlikely social inequality will reduce.”

This is backed up by the CBI whose Director General, Caroline Fairbairn, said in December ‘The UK is facing a skills emergency. Weaknesses in supporting young people into the labour market have existed for years, but the changing nature of jobs and skill needs have turned the situation critical.”

In our schools, where careers advice has historically been covered, there is of course a disparity between the extent and the quality of advice that is delivered between the independent sector and state schools. With the emphasis on exam performance, many schools in the maintained sector struggle to provide the information needed to help teenagers think about their future.

Moreover, according to a recent report by the NUT, there is increasing evidence of a crisis in teacher recruitment and retention, just as the number of pupils and the demand for new teachers begins to increase. A decline in teacher numbers inevitably puts an even greater strain on the ability of teachers to help pupils think about the world of work after school.
Even in independent schools, there is a recognition that things needs to change. A recent Survey in 2017 amongst school heads of some of the country’s top fee-paying schools revealed that 56% of members thought that careers advice within the overall education system was either ‘barely effective or not at all effective’ and even in their own schools, members thought that careers advice should start between the ages of 11-13.

Parents, too, increasingly talk of feeling unable to offer their children the advice they are looking for. The changing nature of the jobs market, largely driven by the rapid changes in technology and automation, means that parents feel ill equipped to advise their children in a way that that they could say, 20 or even 10 years ago.

Most importantly, many teenagers themselves feel disempowered. Proprietary schools research commissioned on behalf of Working Eye by the independent research company, thinkvivid, revealed that thoughts about getting a ”proper” job left many teens feeling conflicted and unsure about the future. As one teenager said, ” I feel nervous that I might not earn enough money. Nervous I might not enjoy the job. Nervous I might not decide what I want to do as a job, in time.” So the default reaction at a young age is often either to aspire to follow in the career footsteps of their parents or to ignore the topic altogether.

Why is it broken? So why has this situation come about?

Government-funded careers services came to an end in 2012 and new legislation required schools to seek ”independent and impartial careers guidance” although no additional funding was allocated to this. Unsurprisingly, after the act was passed less than 20% of 1,568 schools had maintained their previous levels of careers advice. Our government has largely abdicated ‘careers advice’ responsibility to schools and schools have clearly been unable to cope with the demand.

The world of work is also changing rapidly. Some professions are already becoming obsolete and the UK Commission for Employment and Skills estimates that the next 10 years will see a 60% increase in new jobs. Careers advice needs to reflect this. Indeed, it needs to anticipate this and right now, it isn’t.

The trebling of university tuition fees from 2012 and the difficulty of finding a ‘good job’ after graduation means that more young people are starting to question the value of a non-vocational degree. With the rise of paid apprenticeships, many are seeking greater need for clarity around the choices that now exist.

Most observers agree the need for a far greater awareness and understanding of the vast range of careers and jobs that currently exist and are likely to exist in say,15 years time. But most critically, this awareness and understanding needs to start earlier, so teenagers can feel empowered to discover for themselves what career choices and job options might be available to them in years to come.

Many established industries face a recruitment crisis. The engineering and manufacturing sector, for example, still has hurdles to overcome.

Challenges in engineering stem from an industry-wide staff shortage stretching beyond the UK to the rest of Europe. The need for skilled engineers has never been more pressing as it is today. Technology is developing rapidly, its pace only getting quicker, and the global population is growing at a rate of more than 80 million per year. It’s at the hands of the engineering sector to sustain many crucial aspects of our day-to-day lives.

It is estimated that that the UK will need to hire 265,000 skilled workers in the sector annually until 2024, 186,000 of these in engineering positions, to cope with this demand.

More information is clearly needed to help young people explore the possibilities of this immensely challenging but rewarding career choice because as Professor Brian Cox has said ” The reason we don’t have enough engineers in this country is that no one knows what an engineer does any more”. This means a greater emphasis on the teaching of STEM subjects in schools as well recruiting more women into the profession (something that has only recently been acknowledged and addressed).

Furthermore, many industries continue to recruit from the same ‘recruitment pool’, meaning that ethnic minorities are often underrepresented. Minorities from Black, Asian or Minority Ethnic (BAME) backgrounds are not exposed to the type of career learning or networking skills that others from more privileged backgrounds are taught or are exposed to. This has the effect of creating a workforce that is unrepresentative of an increasingly diverse society.

As the link between education and work is in flux, attitudes to apprenticeships need to change. “The government needs to reach out to schools and show why apprenticeships should be considered a credible option. For many pupils and their parents, this will involve a cultural shift,” says Louise Shelley at Highgate School in London. ”We need to show students where to research for apprenticeships.”

Currently too much careers advice that is administered in schools either feels like ” another lesson” or is managed by someone who is unqualified to give it. As Edd Williams, the career consultant and blogger writes, ”Somewhere in your children’s building is a very nice, well meaning person who has lots of books about the types of jobs there are, lots of leaflets and some psychometric forms…(However) they don’t have any concept of what an employer is actually looking for or how to interview. Or how to get the best internships , how to network , how to write a CV or a personal statement.”

This issue is not just restricted to young people. More and more older people are now working longer than ever before as they attempt to plug the financial gap between an inadequate pension and a lengthening retirement. Statistics released by the Department for Work and Pensions show, for the first time, that Britain’s average “exit age” from employment has surpassed 65 for men, with women fast closing in. More than one in 10 men are now working beyond the age of 70, while 8% of women are also working past this threshold.

As older people in their 50s and 60s consider new career opportunities, they too are looking for information that will help them to explore the career and job options that might be available to them in later life and to consider the opportunities around re-training.

Into this scenario has stepped the growth of careers advice websites, all targeting a slightly different demographic and all offering directional advice of varying quality. Whilst some of these sites are no doubt helpful to some and adopted by some schools as part of their career education classes, they all suffer from a general lack of awareness and a similar tonality. Very few are seen to be motivating or relevant to the average 12-15-year-old or indeed pupils from poorer, less informed backgrounds. It is also very apparent that a number of these sites are sponsored by industry sectors or specific companies which means that any aspiration towards ‘impartiality’ is compromised.

If we know why it is broken, how do we fix it?

When it comes to solving the issue of how to get the right advice to young people, there is no easy fix. Most commentators agree that greater communication between the key influencers (parents, teachers and employers) and teenagers would be hugely beneficial.

What most commentators also agree upon is the need for a fundamental step change to take account of a changing job market.

This shift should now focus on more ‘on the job training’ and apprenticeships, more engagement with employers at a young age, an elimination of unpaid internships, more inclusivity and diversity across the workforce, and a greater emphasis on the way technology is likely to drive job transition in the future.

Furthermore, too much careers advice is administered when it’s too late in a child’s education. In a recent quantitative survey conducted by thinkvivid amongst 380 parents and teens, it found that over 80% agreement to the fact that it is hard to make the right GCSE choices if you don’t know what you want to do for a career.

Currently career choice at 16 years old becomes in many cases channelled entirely by the subjects at which the student excels rather than an interest in a particular area of career. This means that young people are guided into work based on academic subjects they are ‘good at’ and any notion of career aspiration or job exploration is lost.

Most importantly, however, there is a recognition that there needs to be more career engagement that allows young people to navigate the choices for themselves, on their own terms as early as possible.

In other words, careers advice that answers many of the questions that teenagers want to know the answers to. ”What careers are out there?”, ”What qualifications do I need? ”, ”How much could I earn”? ”What sort of life will this give me?” Information that does not feel like another lesson. Information that is open, discursive and non judgemental. Information that plays to the social media-literate generation that likes to discover and share content that they find either informative, illuminating or even simply, enjoyable to watch. Content that allows for discovery, rather than top down advice.