Colleges already do well with employer links, but new research shows they have a better chance with the hub model, writes Oli de Botton

Helping young people find their right next steps is difficult at the best of times. In the middle of a pandemic, the task becomes critical.  

Careers education that is college-led, employer-shaped and focused on removing barriers for young people must be part of the answer ̶ and often already is.    

The Careers & Enterprise Company was set up in 2015 to help colleges and schools deliver brilliant careers education, and at the end of February I joined as the new chief executive. 

I’d founded School 21 in east London and, as head, had tried to put employer partnerships and skills such as oracy at the heart of our mission.

Since the pandemic, the Careers & Enterprise Company has seen a growing interest in its work ̶ not least because of worries that young people will feel the long-term “scarring” effects of missing out on opportunities so early on.

We’ve had the privilege of partnering with incredible college careers leaders, governors and senior staff. Although in education it is easy to both over- and under-claim, careers education in FE is on the move.   

‘Careers leaders praise hubs’

Half of England’s FE colleges are now part of our growing network of “careers hubs”. 

First set up in areas of high need, careers hubs are local clusters of schools, colleges, employers and other partners who share practice, provide opportunities for young people and make sure careers education reflects the local economy. 

Hubs also access extra training. Around 150 FE careers leaders have now taken part in professional development, with one-third completing a higher level 7 qualification. 

This is all driving changes on the ground. The majority of careers leaders in hubs now report that young people have better employability skills and are more likely to consider apprenticeship routes. 

Hubs give young people access to more meaningful encounters with employers

Hubs give young people access to more meaningful encounters with employers. We also know careers education in special schools and alternative provision improves when they are in hubs.

Across schools and colleges more generally, 3.3 million young people are now having regular encounters with employers, up 70 per cent in two years. 

Employer partnerships are also growing as leaders draw on strategic support from our network of 3,600 “enterprise advisers”, who are senior business volunteers.

In Carmel College in Darlington, for example, the team works with global engineering firm Jacobs to help them shape their careers programme. Staff receive more support, and students have a clearer line of sight into the world of work as a result. 

‘More work to do’

So the emerging evidence is clear. Many colleges may ask why this sort of support is needed, when they already have strong links with business.

But the longer colleges are in our network of careers hubs, the higher they are performing against all eight Gatsby Benchmarks, which set standards for best practice in careers education.  

In fact, colleges inside hubs achieve almost twice as many benchmarks as those outside. And the higher they are performing, the better the long-term outcomes for students.  

This month, research from the University of Derby showed the impact of meeting the Gatsby Benchmarks.

Across 16 colleges and schools in the north-east, significant increases were seen in how prepared young people were for work and how likely they were to achieve their learning outcomes.

Students saw a 39 per cent increase in their “career readiness score”. 

But there is more to do. We are determined to roll out our hub model to every corner of the country. We also want to partner with more colleges and have been working with The Association of Colleges.

But we’re also developing a virtual community to bring together hundreds of FE careers practitioners, so they can share best practice and innovate together.

And we will be aligning more closely with the National Careers Service, promoting it widely across our network.  

Every young person deserves the best possible start to their working life. Careers education plays an important part in making that possible, and colleges could not be more important in making that vision a reality.