Information about local job markets is guiding students' career choices and finding a place on the curriculum, reports Neil Merrick.
Statistics showing how many people work in different job sectors may interest economists, but are unlikely to stimulate students planning a career or trying to understand the local employment market.
However, thanks to collaboration between training and enterprise councils (TECs) and teachers, the information, which TECs are legally obliged to collect, is being turned into a valuable curriculum tool that can spice up geography and history lessons as well as careers talks.
Two years ago, managers at West London TEC, based in Hounslow, approached careers teachers in four boroughs - Ealing, Hillingdon, Hounslow and Richmond - to find a way of converting the data into useful curriculum materials.
The result is a large, colourful binder called Right Decisions Future Choices, which includes information about growth industries, major employers and the skills companies look for in school leavers.
Maps showing the location of key employers help young people appreciate the geography of the borough, while others show unemployment rates by council ward.
Laurie South, West London's education business manager, says accurate and up-to-date information about the jobs market can help regenerate the local economy and increase the relevance of vocational education by "ensuring young people understand the labour market".
Termly "newsflashes", including the latest employment surveys and news of skills shortages, ensure the binder is kept up to date. These are intended to be circulated to parents as well as placed in the binder.
"Parents are the major influence on young people's career choice but are often several years out of date," says Elspeth Yates, the TEC's education business partnership manager. "And teachers can easily lose touch with what is happening."
One newsflash explained how the logistics industry, much of which is based around nearby Heathrow Airport, is frequently on the lookout for HGV drivers as well as young people suitable for management training.
West London TEC is hoping to produce the binder annually, starting next spring, and plans to place its information on the Internet, opening up the possibility of inserting video clips.
Mary Lord, director of training and education at the TEC national council, says increasing numbers of TECs are supplying information about labour markets to schools and colleges.
The challenge for local partnerships is to convert hard data into useful intelligence as well as eye-catching teaching materials. "They must be relevant to students and become part of the curriculum as well as careers guidance, " she adds. "Alerting young people to changes in the labour market is vital."