Careers: Why students must not get lost in transition

Without the right support in these confusing times, students could end up at the wrong destination, warns Oli De Botton from the Careers and Enterprise Company

Oli De Botton

Careers: 'We must prevent students getting lost in transition'

The best thing about working in a school or college is the hope and optimism that young people bring.

You see this most at proms for school- and college-leavers. Proud teachers beam at students who have grown in all sorts of ways: exams completed, confidence gained, ready to go out in the world with a plan and a pathway, whether that's a job, an apprenticeship or a vocational or academic course.

We might have proms this summer, but I'm worried about the plans for the future. 

With schools and colleges returning last week, and budget announcements coming from the government, attention is increasingly turning towards pandemic recovery.

Young people and their limitless capacity must be paramount in these plans. They are the next generation of entrepreneurs, innovators, inventors and employers. The recovery agenda for schools, colleges and the economy are inextricably linked.

The immediate challenge is to prevent students getting lost in transition. In normal times, most 16 and 18-year-olds leave full of hope. This year, without the clarity of exams, students could end up at the wrong destination, without the right support.


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But there is a bigger future challenge, too: readying young people for the world of work. In previous recessions, those newest to the labour market have had fewer opportunities and suffered longer-term scarring. We already know that young people account for three in five of the jobs lost since the start of the pandemic.

Having just left the headship of School 21 to lead the Careers and Enterprise Company, I can see the difficulty and the possibility. So what can we do?

'Going beyond work placements and connections'

A proven careers infrastructure is out there and ready to help answer the challenge. As set out in the skills for jobs white paper, employers, schools and colleges are working together in dynamic careers hubs, helping every child build employability skills, gain meaningful experience with employers and make ambitious plans for the future.

Careers leaders in schools and colleges are becoming indispensable, working with students to look at all the information: what jobs and apprenticeships are out there? Which sixth forms are good for wellbeing? Which providers have the best offer for technical courses? Many are already focused on the current Year 11 and Year 13, using the full flexibility of remote learning to reduce geographical exclusion.

But there is more to do. This summer, as part of the wider catch-up programme, we must redouble our efforts. 

We should look at ways to use time between now and September to ready students for what comes next with pre-university courses, college and sixth-form taster sessions, and online courses to boost skills. If we can get the transitions right this summer, we might reduce drop-out rates. 

For the longer term, we need to recommit to powerful alliances between employers, schools and colleges in service of all young people. This means going beyond work placements and connections – important though they are – to seeing the relationships as mutually beneficial in a more fundamental sense.

For schools and colleges, employer partnerships help give students informed choices about their next steps and a powerful sense of direction to help with their studies. 

For employers the prize is clear. Sustained, impactful engagement with schools and colleges helps build the future workforce. 

The national mission must be to help this generation of young people not only recover but be the driving force behind economic and social renewal. Their exams may be cancelled but their futures can’t be. 

Oli de Botton is the chief executive of the Careers and Enterprise Company

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Oli De Botton

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