What we need from a revived national careers service policy

It’s great to see the idea of a national careers service revived after it was canned a decade ago. Here’s how we can finally build what learners need

It’s great to see the idea of a national careers service revived after it was canned a decade ago. Here’s how we can finally build what learners need

18 Jun 2024, 17:00

That Ofsted reports repeatedly mention the importance of the careers curriculum (and not just labour market information but as an integral measure of personal development) is music to my ears. However, demand for more sophisticated careers guidance without the resources to deliver can only be detrimental to the sector.

Students and apprentices want great careers advice that clarifies their progression and employment opportunities. But they also want to focus on completing their course of study successfully.

Colleges and training providers want their students and apprentices to be informed self-advocates. But there is also a focus on the successful completion of the provision they deliver.

Employers want employees who are engaged, resilient and adaptable. But they also want to retain talent and reduce turnover.

These are not contradictory priorities. They complement each other beautifully. All you have to do is start from the learner’s perspective.

A learner who is using their skills, appreciating their studies and operating in a fulfilling environment is more likely to stay the course and succeed. An employee whose skills are engaged, passions stimulated, and feels they are making a difference is more likely to reward their employer with loyalty.

Requires improvement

Aged 23, I walked into the Oxford careers office with a degree in politics and law and a toddler at my heels. ‘We don’t do women returners,’ was all the support I got.

A decade or so later, my daughter suggested she’d like to work with animals in her career questionnaire. Taxidermy came back as a recommendation. So yes, things have moved on. But they still require improvement,

A decade ago, I was seconded to the coalition government to help develop an all-age national careers service. The coalition crumbled, as did the idea. I’m pleased to see it being resurrected and I hope it can finally come to fruition.

I now work as career coach, and I am still astounded by how many people simply do not know where to turn for good careers advice. We spend an average of 80,000 hours at work, yet many of us spend more time planning our holidays than we do our career.

When we do, we are too often presented with an overwhelming array of choices and little guidance about the personal tools available to successfully navigate these choices.

There is a great need for good labour market information and details of progression routes. But I believe the greater need is the framework to help individuals make the right decisions for themselves.

Key questions

To address this means focussing on five aspects of the individual:

  • What does success mean to them?
  • What skills do they bring to their career?
  • What passions drive them?
  • What impact do they want to make?
  • What kind of environment brings out the best in them?

By working through these questions and prioritising their importance, learners can begin to devise their own unique career statement. This will serve as a reliable guide when they are assessing their options.

More than that, they can work out what is within their sphere of influence and how to get where they want to be. It provides material for meaningful reviews with line managers, talent coaches, tutors and learning managers. When everyone understands what you want, they’re much more likely to land on the right opportunity for you.

The main party manifestos mention careers variously and rather unimaginatively.  The headlines are about skills-matching rather than the whole individual. There is still an emphasis on schools, colleges and young people, while adults and training providers appear to still be a mystery to politicians.

My challenge to the next government is to put more resources into personal development and careers guidance. If it really is important enough for Ofsted to judge, it should become a central component of funded provision.

I look forward to the day when I close down my business because career provision is so excellent that seeking private and individual support is redundant.

Until then, 23-year-old me will keep fighting for better.

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