Nick Clegg has unveiled new proposals to help young people into the workplace, including better careers advice and a Ucas-style clearing system for vocational qualifications.
The deputy prime minister said that the new proposals would help stop young people from becoming Neet (not in education, employment or training); figures released by the government on the same day show that the number of Neets is at its lowest since 2008.
Mr Clegg said that for many teenagers, careers advice was still a "tick box exercise squeezed into a lunchtime break".
New guidance will soon be issued to schools about what “good” careers advice should look like, with Ofsted looking more closely at its quality during inspections.
One of the most important changes will be a new responsibility on schools to develop links with local employers, he added.
For students who do not want to study a degree, Mr Clegg said that there would be a Ucas-style system to help them find the right option, with local councils responsible for making sure it carries up-to-date information.
Addressing an audience of students, Mr Clegg said: “At 16, when a lot of you are having to choose whether you go to college, do an apprenticeship or train for a particular trade or occupation, we think it's only right that you get the same guidance and support as those going to university.”
He also announced that in future, young people will be able to gain help at Jobcentres from age 16, with around 3,000 16- and 17-year-olds taking part in pilot projects.
The 157 Group of colleges said that the commitment to was a positive step towards making sure the choice of a vocational pathway is seen as a natural and valued one for everyone.
Its executive director Lynne Sedgmore said: “FE colleges serve many people on vocational programmes who are experiencing educational success that they otherwise might not have had. But too many young people either do not know about these options or are actively put off pursuing vocational pathways.”
However, she said colleges would be keen to see what policies lie behind the commitment and would want assurances that the website and guidance would make a genuine difference.
The Confederation of British Industry has long called for a Ucas-style system for vocational qualifications.
Neil Carberry, its director for employment and skills policy, said: “This is a major step forward in making vocational routes more visible and will help put it on a level footing with more traditional academic routes.
“The government is right to focus on improving careers advice as it remains on life support. Schools cannot do it alone and employers have a key role to play in inspiring young people and preparing them for the workplace.”
Meanwhile, government statistics published today reveal that between October and December 2013 there were 45,000 fewer Neets than in the same period in 2012.
In the 16-18 age group, only 7.6 per cent were Neet in that period, the lowest since comparable government records began in 2000. The number of 19-24-year-olds who are Neet also fell by 38,000 when compared with the same quarter in 2012.
Skills minister Nick Hancock said that the figures were testament to the hard work being done to ensure that young people have the skills and education they need to take part in the workforce.
But Martin Freedman, director of economic strategy at the Association of Teachers and Lecturers (ATL) said that the figures do not give the full picture.
“We believe that substantial numbers of young people are stuck in low-paid, low-skilled jobs with no career prospects, while many may be on zero-hours contracts or in jobs that are not sustainable,” he said.
Fiona Aldridge, head of learning for work at adult education body Niace, called the figures a “step in the right direction”, but said that far too many young people are still not getting the right start to life after school.
“They need better support in achieving that vital first step into the workplace, as well as having access to the right education and training opportunities to secure fulfilling and lasting careers,” she said.