Think of careers advice and you may be taken back to your school days, sitting outside a commandeered classroom on an uncomfortable plastic chair and waiting to be seen by the careers counsellor. You might even remember the ‘talk about your future’ and the definitive list of the qualifications you would definitely need in order to confidently pursue your chosen occupation.
If you’re of a certain age, you may even have experienced this at a time when it wasn’t unthinkable to imagine your working life stretching out in front of you as a series of well-mapped out progressions along a prescribed path.
Today, working life is rather more uncertain. As a result, it’s not only people just starting out who find themselves wondering about their career direction, what employers want and how they can best equip themselves for the next stage in their working lives.
External forces such as economic crises, technological change, the pandemic and the war in Europe have transformed national and international labour markets. The types and quality of jobs have changed, as have the demands of employers and employees.
Workers are rightly anticipating the need to upskill, reskill and adapt to new roles, but they need a well-connected and established skills system with career guidance support at its heart to help them understand what skills are required now. More than that, they need support to gain and maintain the skills to meet future employer demands.
Recent research on the labour market information system for careers in England found that there are significant gaps in adult career guidance services, such as little detailed information on skills and sectoral information. These gaps were emphasised during the pandemic, when adults were looking to transfer their skills to new roles. Advisers found that there was a lack of current information on the labour market and demands that could be used to help them.
It is in this context that ReWAGE has recently published Adult career guidance and its role in skills development, which argues that adult career guidance services should be the foundation of a skills system supporting those in work to remain employable and those out of work to gain employment. This would not only benefit employees, employers and the economy alike, but also ensure that the UK’s workforce of 2030 and beyond is ready and able to meet the challenges ahead.
The paper includes evidence that other countries are using a combination of legislation, strategic leadership, coordination, collaboration and professional standards to offer support for adults to explore career options, return to education, reskill, upskill and attain sustainable work. There is no reason why the UK can’t follow suit, and the paper offers four key recommendations to get started.
First, greater public investment in supporting adults into employment would increase their understanding of available job, education and career opportunities and enable them to access support to make informed work and learning decisions across their life course.
Second, government should provide a transparent and stable career guidance system. This requires legislation, strategic leadership and collaboration with stakeholders including local government, employers, education and training providers, employment services and the National Careers Service.
Third, government should encourage and support employers to invest in careers support and development for employees. This would ensure a skilled and adaptable workforce and benefit individuals, employers and the economy.
Fourth, there needs to be greater investment in labour market information and data, particularly at a sectoral level. This would improve intelligence for those developing and providing services to support adults looking to upskill, reskill and transfer their skills. As part of this, we need better classification of occupations and skills taxonomies to enable better linking of data across services.
There is overwhelming evidence to support the benefits of career guidance. When enriched by employer engagement and work experience, it enables a better understanding of the work environment and raises aspirations.
It’s time we reached a clear agreement on what good careers guidance looks like for adults. Today’s employees need it, and our economy demands it.