Are schools providing the right career advice?
Something is definitely rotten in the workplace. On the one hand, we have over a million young people out of work, and on the other the Confederation of British Industry (CBI) tells us that half of companies in the UK have trouble finding staff. The root of the problem may partly lie in the quality of career advice for school-leavers, which under changes in 2011 saw it becoming the direct responsibility of schools. A growing chorus of blame has been directed at the failure of schools to match the aspirations of young people with the qualifications and skills that employers require.
John Cridland, head of the CBI, put it in a nutshell in June when he told the Grammar School Heads’ Association annual conference: “The competition for jobs has never been so tough with young people hit by a double whammy of slow economic growth and a rapidly changing labour market. Yet, it’s alarming there is such a big mismatch between the skills that young people have and the realities of the workplace. We cannot afford to waste talent and investment when the long-term outlook is still so fragile.”
Several recent studies back this up. According to publisher Pearson, only 14% of teachers think schools have enough money to deliver the duty, while in March a survey of teenagers by the Education and Employers Taskforce revealed a “massive mismatch” between young people’s career expectations and the reality of the jobs available.
Meanwhile, in a separate report, advisory body the National Careers Council warned that not enough teenagers are getting face-to-face careers advice – in fact, the year-old National Careers Service only offers it to adults – and less than 1% used the phone line set up for them. The council argues that young people are often too shy to pick up the phone to a stranger whereas face-to-face conversation enables advisors to draw them out and explore what is open to them.
In the opposite camp, the Department of Education sees no fault in the new system, with a spokeswoman claiming that schools are well-placed to deliver impartial and independent careers advice and that it is an improvement on the previous system “which was patchy, costly and often of poor quality”. In addition, education minister Liz Truss has told MPs that by giving schools a strong role they can help students with critical areas such as subject choice.
It’s a sound argument, but the crux of the problem seems to be a lack of resources to make the new system work. As teachers have little experience of careers beyond the academic world, schools need to have more access to technology and external resources.
Those schools that can invest have excelled in providing careers advice. Malmesbury School in Wiltshire, for instance, has invested time, money, resources and energy into this area of the school, receiving the Career Mark Award.
It uses an impartial online program, Kudos, which is designed to help 13-19 year-olds plan their future. Year 9 students at the school use it before they choose their GCSE subjects, for instance, and it is also used as an interview tool by the in-house careers adviser.
Louise Boyd, Senior Curriculum Leader for ilearn, at Malmesbury School, explains that Malmesbury has appointed a dedicated careers advisor, invites advice from local and national businesses, training and employment providers, colleges, and universities, and has implemented a Careers Week and STEM week in school.
In the end, then, it comes down to investment. The government might have to rethink its austerity measures and earmark funds to support schools in order to ensure the future workforce is skilled and in place. This includes providing more guidance to schools, putting accountability measures in place and providing quality assurance.
“In this ever-changing jobs market and uncertainty in many career sectors, schools need additional support, time and – dare I say it – money to do this job well,” says Boyd.