Careers – it’s a noisy place to be!

Wow, it’s been quite a year in the careers education, information, advice and guidance world.

Since the release of Ofsted’s thematic review, ‘Going in the right direction?’, last September, it seems like we’ve been bombarded with reports, commentary and statements about CEIAG.

Private, public and voluntary sector organisations have been voicing their opinions on careers support for young people in England, many raising concerns (and in some cases criticising) provision (or lack of).

Those not too jaded by what seems like a succession of documents released into the public domain, will know that the last few months alone we have seen the following:

And there are probably a few more that I haven’t mentioned.

One piece that didn’t attract the attention it deserved was ‘Careering into oblivious’ a blog post by Matthew Taylor Chief Executive of the RSA. In it Matthew points out some of the real challenges of measuring the impact of careers interventions and how a valuable service can be undermined.

So why are so many organisations and individuals voicing their opinions and concerns on CEIAG?

It’s because fundamentally ‘careers’ is a crucial matter. Take away the political viewpoints, organisations individual motivations, self-interest, differing points of view on the ‘right’ or ‘wrong’ way to provide CEIAG or even what constitutes ‘careers education’, ‘careers information’, ‘careers advice’ or ‘careers guidance’, there are two facts that are difficult to dispute:

  1. The education system exists to prepare a young person for adult life. For the majority of us, a significant proportion of our ‘adult life’ will be dominated by work/a career/multiple careers. With most people spending 5 times the amount of time that they spend in school in work over their lifetime, exploring, learning about and developing plans for careers surely has to be one of the most valuable opportunities that an education system can give a young person.
  2. The cost of not providing effective careers support is too high – and it’s a price everyone pays. Unemployment, course drop-out/failure or unhappiness with the choices made all have a financial cost to the individual and the economy. However, whilst there are numerous sets of statistics and reports putting financial impacts of benefit claims etc., there are wider reaching effects which mean that those figures should be multiplied many times to put a true figure on the real impact.

A young person doesn’t complete a course/drops out. The individual is impacted personally because their self-esteem, motivation etc. is knocked. They find it difficult to find another course or job that they can start immediately. They have to find a way of occupying their time until they can start another course/find a job. When they do apply, their confidence is impacted by the fact that they failed to complete the course. A perspective employer or course leader questions their commitment because of their history. If a period of time has passed it is difficult for them to engage in structured learning or work because they have had a period of not having structure in their life. They then require intensive support to help them re-engage.

That’s not to mention the fact that by enrolling on the first course they took the place of someone who might have succeeded and have progressed on from the career successfully.

What is the cost of that scenario? It’s hard to put a figure on but it’s significantly higher than the cost of any out of work benefit claim. The potential impact that youth unemployment has on crime has been used as a ‘scare tactic’ in some quarters but impacts (and costs of) mental health support, personal relationship/family conflict etc. needs to be acknowledged.

There are similar ‘snow-ball’ impacts with young people starting jobs and apprenticeships which they discover aren’t ‘right’ for them and feeling unable to stay. In these situations the impacts reach further with employers becoming disenchanted with giving young people an opportunity because it hasn’t worked out. This has the potential to deprive subsequent cohorts an opportunity of working with that employer.

Now, I’m not naive enough to believe that careers support, whether it be ‘E’, ‘I’, ‘A’ or ‘G’ (or a combination of) will prevent every young person from making a wrong choice. People who are educated, informed, advised and guided still make decisions that turn out not to be the best – the difference is that they often have the knowledge to navigate the situation better and move on to something different.

I chose the wrong courses myself and didn’t complete. Fortunately I had enough of the ‘E’ and ‘I’ plus a good support network to enable me to get on a different pathway quickly with minimal impact to me but there was still a cost to it.

So perhaps we need to better champion the real purpose of careers support. Good careers support shouldn’t tell a young person what to do with their future. What is should do is equip them with the knowledge and skills to help them make informed choices throughout their life. It should also help them to evaluate themselves, their own motivations, needs and ambitions for life and take that into account when they are making choices.

All too often we hear ridicule in the media with comment from people stating that they were “told” to a certain job role (usually something slightly ‘comical’) by a careers adviser/teacher or a computer program like our own. In reality very few will have been dictated that career (and certainly none from a computer program!). The fact is that they have expected, and in some cases wanted, someone or something else to magically tell them what they should do with the rest of their lives. So instead of taking the career ideas as suggestions to explore or the opportunity to discuss and evaluate their own ideas and preferences in relation to their future, they see “So you say you enjoy working outdoors, it’s worth exploring X” as “You should be X”.

Amongst the reports, opinions and ‘noise’ it’s easy to sometimes lose track of what the purpose of careers support is.

The new academic year will bring even greater commentary on CEIAG. The new statutory guidance comes into effect, Ofsted looks set to increase the guidance it provides about careers guidance under the Leadership and Management inspection theme, new National Careers Service contracts begin, the government is promising to put the spotlight on enterprise and teachers are going to be encouraged to do work experience in industry. Oh and there’s the small matter of a General Election and the release of manifestos.

So the noise will continue and, most likely, get louder. Make sure that you treat yourself to some quiet time over the summer!

 

 

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