Laura-Jane Rawlings raises concern about the reliance on employer volunteers to make the government’s careers advice strategy work.

We are gearing up to a very important period for young people as many are about to start sitting exams but also taking their next steps.

In these key transitions, we need to support them to effectively navigate education, employment or training choices ahead of them.

Young people and employers have cited that poor quality careers education and information in schools is contributing to the issues of youth unemployment.

It seems that DfE has replaced a well-funded careers strategy with the idea that the business community can fill the gap

In 2014, I took a number of young people to meet with colleagues from the Department for Education (DfE) to discuss what they felt the barriers were to employment.

They spoke of their desire to have a better understanding of all their career options, time with a qualified adviser and time to develop the skills and experience that employers want.

Some spoke with real passion about the struggles they have faced making the transition without good guidance.

The DfE introduced the Careers & Enterprise Company has to ensure young people are prepared for life beyond education.

With a £20m investment in spring 2015, the company focused on encouraging greater collaboration between schools, colleges and employers.

Many of the principles for the company’s ‘toolkit’ come from the findings of a report from the Gatsby Foundation.

What is lost from the report is the cost to a school of £54,000 to implement the Gatsby strategy — an equivalent of about 1 per cent of a school’s budget.

It seems that DfE has replaced a well-funded careers strategy with the idea that the business community can fill the gap.

Employers are a large part of the equation when it comes to frameworks for good careers work, such as The Careers and Development Institute framework and London Ambitions.

Many employers are engaged with schools; significant numbers of organisations (the Education and Employers Taskforce, Team London etc) benefit from exceptional volunteer support from employers.

Our Young Members tell us that they value this contact with employers.

However, there are other important ingredients including a stable career education programme in schools and the provision of high quality, face to face career guidance provided by a qualified practitioner.

We must acknowledge that not all employers want or have the capacity to engage.

UKCES research highlights that 66 per cent of employer’s value work experience, but only 38 per cent of employer’s offer support.

The Government is looking to employers to volunteer for a new mentoring initiative, as well as the array of initiatives from DWP.

I fear we could exhaust the grace of the business community. Can we really build a sustainable solution that is solely reliant on volunteers who receive minimal training?

From my experience, as a school governor and head of an organisation with many volunteers, I know it is a risky business to rely on volunteers alone.

By the nature of business, employers are busy and with the best will in the world volunteering is dropped when other pressures take hold.

One school told me the enterprise adviser they have been assigned is too busy to do any real work with them, and the school is too busy to engage with a service that is not.

While a member of school staff has the role of ‘careers lead’ tacked on to their day job, and a member of the local business community is volunteering in the adviser capacity, can the big change we need to see in careers education really happen?

Some 853,000 young people aged from 16 to 24 in the UK were not in education, employment or training at the end of 2015.

The issue of careers education, the role of employers, and the commitment from government needs to be ironed out fast before more young people are failed by us.

We know good careers education and employer engagement can do amazing things.

But we must start with mandating and real monitoring from government — what gets measured in our schools gets done.

To see the £20m investment in the company pay-off, to ensure young people get the service they need to secure full employment and for employers to benefit from a skilled, productive workforce, we must see a genuine, properly – funded, commitment to careers education from this government.

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  1. Mark pike

    And to further dilute any positive impact, the network of volunteers is not available to all. Independent providers cannot access the advisers. So many young people will be disadvantaged purely because they access their education in a different setting to that of a school or college.

  2. Lizzie Taylor

    You are right, that the current policy architecture is fundamentally flawed, because students need access to personal guidance from a qualified advisor, in school. An advisor helps them realistically map their own strengths onto the careers landscape beyond school, and then helps them plan and choose the educational route to get there. And saves young people and the taxpayer from costly blind alleys along the way.

    More broadly, as a consequence of all this, professional capacity within the careers sector in England is now imploding.