Careers Advice – House of Commons debate

Following the announcement late last year about the introduction of a new all-age careers service for England, broader interest and focus has fallen on the subject of careers advice and guidance.

Recently, Esther McVey, MP for Wirral West secured a debate in the House of Commons on careers advice in schools. The MP was aiming to create greater awareness of the issue of careers advice provision and its impacts. In the Wirral area, 16.8% of young people aged 16-19 are not in education, training or employment, which is one of the key reasons why the MP wished to engage the House in a debate.

Addressing the House, Esther McVey MP said,

“Added to that [increasing numbers of young people not engaged in education, employment or training] is the ever more sophisticated array of choices of job, training, education and routes to work. It requires the accompanying sophistication of knowledge and know-how to enable students, at the right juncture in their lives, to choose the right subject so as to follow the right education path, preferred course or Apprenticeship training, or fill out the right job application form. It is not only providing up-to-date information that will allow every student the best opportunity to pursue subjects and interests that best suit their talents and aspirations, but ensuring that young people and their parents are well informed about the potential of the decisions and the positive ways in which they can influence their future working lives.”

A number of MPs contributed to the debate, including Steve Rotheram MP for Liverpool Walton, Dr Stella Creasy MP for Walthamstow and Andrew Miller MP for Ellesmere Port and Neston.

A key theme raised was the subject of transition from existing arrangements for careers advice provision via local authorities and Connexions to the new all-age careers service.

This is an issue which careers professionals around the country are incredibly concerned about.  At CASCAiD we are continuing to hear about reductions in staff and services in many local areas.

In response to concerns raised in the debate, John Hayes MP, Minister for Further Education, Skills and Lifelong Learning (whose remit includes the careers service) said,

“Let me say something about transition. To be frank, I was concerned about that too. Determined though we are to put in place the all-age service, it is vital that transitional arrangements are handled properly. During the transition period, we will support local authorities to work through any changes in local service provision that may be necessary as a result of the establishment of the all-age service, involving, where appropriate, Connexions service providers.”

“In 2011-12, the early intervention grant will support transitional arrangements to ensure that young people have access to impartial guidance in advance of the all-age careers service being fully operational.”

“Local authorities will retain a duty to provide the service and the new all-age service will begin to kick in from this autumn.”

The debate also touched on a number of other areas including how the profile of Apprenticeships can be raised. Bob Stewart MP for Beckenham, raised the issue of how students can be made aware of all of their options, “…so that they can choose the route that best suits them and their skills.”

As part of the announcements about the all-age careers service, it was stated that schools will be responsible for securing high-quality careers guidance. This has led to a number of concerns about impartiality and how well equipped schools are to advise on options such as Apprenticeships.

In response to the concerns raised in the debate, John Hayes MP referenced research carried out by the Edge Foundation,

“…the survey also revealed that teachers in schools knew less about Apprenticeships than any other qualification with the exception of the Welsh baccalaureate. I have nothing against the Welsh baccalaureate, but one would have expected teachers to know rather more about Apprenticeships than they do. As they do not have that information at their disposal, they cannot always match people’s aspirations and talents to the opportunities that I spoke of earlier. That is why we need independent, high quality, up to date and impartial advice and guidance for all young people.”

The debate also raised the topic of how to engage students in STEM subjects (science, technology, engineering and maths). Esther McVey MP referenced a recent report by the Institute of Mechanical Engineers about young people’s attitude towards STEM subjects. She also added,

“I cannot believe that the current situation is unique to STEM subjects. It must span across a range of subject areas, the message being: if we can engage young people and children in future career options and get them interested from an early age, they can connect with a broad range of choices of which they might not otherwise be aware. If they have a particular interest, they can tailor their education to that interest. Young people often miss out on important opportunities because they do not take up the correct subjects and are not adequately informed early enough about the choices that they need to make for their careers.”

At CASCAiD, we believe that making a link between the knowledge and skills that young people develop in different subjects and the careers that will require this knowledge and those skills is crucial. It enables them to understand the value of what they are learning and engages them in the subject.

It was great to see careers advice and guidance on the political agenda again and to see a number of MPs expressing their interest in the topic. We hope it continues to maintain a high profile and that there is an increasing acknowledgement of the value of high-quality, impartial careers advice and guidance.

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