The UK’s careers so-called “strategy” is to ditch trained, independent professionals in favour of volunteers, warns Dr Deirdre Hughes

The long-awaited careers strategy is finally in the public domain. There will be a huge sigh of relief from the DfE – and a sharp intake of breath for those at the coalface trying to deliver careers support to young people in their local communities.

There is certainly some good news for those working with adults: “All adults should be able to access free face-to-face advice, with more bespoke support for those who most need it.”

What’s more, career learning pilots and a national retaining scheme will be funded in support of lifelong learning. But careers support for young people continues to form part of a high-risk experiment in England.

Careers support for young people continues to form part of a high-risk experiment in England

The government plans to allocate more funds on top of the initial £30m+ investment to the Careers and Enterprise Company (CEC) to embed all eight Gatsby benchmarks throughout England. These key ‘good guidance’ principles were introduced in 2014. The CEC has been very slow to embrace the careers profession at board and operational level. 

In 2017, two of the eight National Careers Service contractors achieved an ‘outstanding’ grade from Ofsted; the rest were rated ‘good’. These included the Inspiration Agenda, which supports teachers and young people’s encounters with employers and experiences of workplaces. The Education and Skills Funding Agency has now informed National Careers Service providers that funding for this work will end in September 2018. Trained and professional careers advisers face uncertain futures.

There will instead be 20 new careers hubs, led by CEC. But how will these differ from partnerships that are already established in communities? And CEC is to be involved in primary school activities, competing with other well-established providers. But there is no mention of careers advice for young people in training.

Research published alongside the careers strategy shows that of the 2,000 young people asked who helped them make decisions about what to do after year 11/13, only two per cent pointed to a CEC enterprise adviser. Forty per cent spoke to an adviser at school or college. Although most young people are willing to access information online, they prefer face-to-face help.

A parallel DfE report indicates that staff feel that there are enough tools and resources available, but that more personnel are required. Both reports are a reality check – many young people want greater access to face-to-face careers guidance, no different to adults.

The DfE proposal is to train 500 careers coordinators, now called “careers leaders”. Will they be existing or new teachers? There are over 3,000 schools and 280 colleges.

This is a unique experiment not evident in other OECD countries; we over-rely on volunteers and employers, and have a major void in the system when it comes to government investment in careers professionals’ work. Ironically, as more young people face more complex education and labour market choices, their access to independent and impartial careers professionals is left to chance in England, in contrast to other parts of the UK and further afield.

Some good news is that the Education and Training Foundation will provide professional development for those working with special educational needs and disabilities. But what of those young people not in schools and colleges? Does the CEC role now extend to cover those in apprenticeships/traineeships?

Delivery and implementation in communities is what really matters. Local partnerships will do their best to make things work. Over the next 12 months, it will be essential to monitor closely what’s happening at both a national and local level. Fortunately, the minister has promised a review, so watch this space.

Deirdre Hughes is an associate fellow at Warwick University’s Institute for Employment Research, and former chair of the National Careers Council