Over the past few years we have seen rapid changes taking place in the economy and the employment market – which makes careers advice and education absolutely critical. The Brexit vote has also brought this to the forefront as there is now an urgency to support young people and adults to gain the skills needed for an economy that can compete globally.
Colleges are well-placed to upskill Britain’s workforce and they are essential for the government’s vision for better technical and professional education. However, if we are to fill the skills gaps and train young people to work across a range of industries, it is imperative that these young people are aware of all the options available to them at the age of 16, such as apprenticeships and technical education and training.
Careers advice is currently not working for many young people; too many are being encouraged to stay in the school sixth form without being aware of other high-quality options with colleges and other training providers. Some young people leave their courses part way through at age 17 as they simply weren’t given the right advice in the first place.
'Light at the end of the tunnel'
The previous government did have plans for new legislation that would require schools to allow other providers of education and training to talk to their pupils about opportunities post-16. This now seems to have been shelved. However, there does now appear to be a chink of light at the end of the tunnel. Last week, Lord Baker put forward an amendment to the Technical and Further Education Bill that was accepted by the government, which says schools must ensure that there is an opportunity for a range of education and training providers to access pupils to inform them about technical education qualifications or apprenticeships.
This is a huge step forward and I have been working on this issue with the Association of Colleges for a number of years, including through its Careers Guidance: Guaranteed campaign, to call for young people to have better access to advice and guidance. I want to ensure that the government is aware of the critical nature of the need to change the law around access, and so I am putting forward a Ten-Minute Rule Bill, called the "Careers Advice (Access to Schools) Bill" in Parliament, on Tuesday 28 February, to ensure that school pupils are provided with high-quality, impartial careers advice on all post-16 options available to them. It will require schools in England to provide access to their premises and pupils to post-16 education establishments and others offering guidance on careers, training and courses.
Schools cannot deliver professional and independent careers advice and guidance alone and they are not best placed to talk about the benefits of a technical and professional education or apprenticeships; colleges and training providers are. Colleges recognise the critical nature of good careers education and are keen to work with their local schools. These changes to access need to happen; they cannot be swept under the carpet. We owe it to every young person so that they can achieve their potential and find the best routes into the right career.
Nic Dakin is Labour MP for Scunthorpe