Millions of people today work in jobs that didn’t exist when their parents left education. It’s a new world that demands more coherent national and local careers provision, says Deirdre Hughes

We are facing a significant economic challenge; there is high unemployment (especially among young people) at the same time as employers struggle to recruit people with the skills they need. As careers diversify, this topic becomes more important and more challenging.

More complex careers, with more options in work and learning, are opening up new opportunities for many people. But they are also making career choices harder for young people and adults; make the wrong one and there are financial and emotional penalties.

About 1.09 million young people are not in education, employment and/or training (NEET), yet at the same time, according to the Confederation of British Industry, more than half of businesses are not confident that they will find sufficient recruits.

This is particularly acute in certain sectors that are vital to the growth of our economy; for example, 23 per cent of businesses face difficulty in getting experienced staff with expertise in science, technology, engineering and mathematics. As recent studies have shown, there is a mismatch between the career aspirations of young people and the reality of the jobs market.

We also have an ageing population with many adults having to work longer. Therefore, it is vital that we create more insights to job opportunities and areas for the development and growth of vocational skills. Something needs to be done — and quickly.

In this new world, people need access to reliable and relevant information about a jobs market that is undergoing rapid, dynamic change. They need, too, to be prepared by their schools, colleges and universities to be resilient to the uncertainties and opportunities of the flexible labour market. From the start, they need to understand and think through the options open to them in terms of their future careers. And they will need to repeat that process throughout their working lives.

The days when a careers adviser could guide a young person or adult into a job or occupation for life are long gone. The role has changed, as has the landscape of careers services. As well as public sector careers services, there are now private-sector consultants, employers, recruitment companies and learning providers, all contributing to a richly varied career development landscape.

Rapid technological developments — notably online provision — mean that our population needs career management and digital literacy skills to achieve sustained employability. There are real risks of social exclusion, particularly for young people and older adults unable to afford technology or with limited access to it. Life skills now include new ways of thinking about careers and the dynamic context in which they evolve. And the pace of change can only increase.

The National Careers Council challenges the government, employers, education and the careers sector to act boldly and decisively in framing a more coherent national and local careers offer for young people and adults. We need new ideas and approaches; we need high-performing career development and labour market policies and practices, involving the public, private and voluntary/community sectors.

A council report sets out seven recommendations that together would raise standards right across career support services. Based on a greatly strengthened partnership approach, they would help to shape a highly visible careers service to meet the needs of an aspirational nation. If the government acts on them, together we can create a movement to bring about a much needed culture change in careers provision for young people and adults.

Dr Deirdre Hughes OBE, chair National Careers Council