Youngsters need help to manage a careers maze

9th November 2012 at 00:00
In a rapidly changing economic environment top-quality advice on the world of work is essential

Few of us approach our career with a grand plan, a vision cooked up during our schooldays that sees us through the decades to follow - I know I certainly didn't. The one thing that we all should strive for, however, is developing the career management skills that will help us negotiate the inevitable ups and downs that will come our way.

Decisions about whether to go to university, college, or enter the world of work are daunting at any time. But in a rapidly changing labour market, this generation of school-leavers faces unprecedented choice, and - with youth unemployment at a five-year high - some significant challenges.

In this context, it is more critical than ever that young people receive the right support to help them make effective career choices and develop the skills they need to succeed. This is a matter close to my heart, having devoted my own career - latterly as principal of Lewisham College, a large inner-city college in south-east London - to supporting people to make the most of their talents.

Good-quality careers advice and support is imperative for our society and our economy. Economically, it helps people make good choices, for themselves and the economy, better matching skills supply with demand. Socially, good careers guidance is fundamental to the well-being of every individual, and ultimately to creating a fairer, more equal society.

Recent research shows that poorer children tend to have lower aspiration and less access to social networks for advice about further and higher education and work than their better-off peers. Indeed, a Prince's Trust survey of young people from workless families in 2010 found that 70 per cent have struggled to find work and 25 per cent feel their parents do not have the knowledge to help them find employment.

Good, impartial careers guidance can help redress these imbalances, supporting all young people, regardless of their background, to capitalise on their talents and move on to fulfilling careers. But we can't achieve this by continuing to do what we have always done. The world has moved on, with major social, economic and technological shifts in the past decade, and we must move with it.

Scotland is taking heed and reforming the way it delivers careers services. The new model, developed by the national skills body Skills Development Scotland and now being rolled out in schools, uses the latest technology and labour-market research to ensure that more people than ever before get the support they need to build lasting careers. This is a modern, cutting-edge approach, centrally informed with up-to-the-minute data from employers. Completely in tune with the realities of the labour market, it lets career advisers identify where the opportunities will be in the future and match those to young people's interests and strengths.

This revamp takes careers services fully into the 21st century. It gives people access to first-rate careers advice, in an accessible, flexible form that suits the modern learner. Through a variety of engaging channels, from web-based to telephone to face-to-face, it is universal and tailored, meeting the needs of every individual.

This is about empowerment. Through a mix of services, like the interactive web-service My World of Work, young people will be given the resources and skills to manage their own careers throughout their lives. These career management skills are being embedded across Curriculum for Excellence, to give young people greater resilience and better equip them to thrive in today's workplace.

This is also a question of social justice. To give our young people the best possible start in life, they need not only good education but strong careers advice. This service targets those furthest from the labour market with intensive coaching to give them the extra help they need to make that transition.

This is no one-size-fits-all approach, but a sophisticated one that leaves no stone unturned in this far-reaching service. Nor does it leave anyone alone as they face decisions to move them closer to the lives they want to lead. Better still, it trains and hands over to them the skills to navigate for themselves a changing world of changing options.

In the hands of a hands-quality set of professionals, this careers service is a great credit to Scotland and a model of how governments can - and should - ensure supported autonomy for all.

Dame Ruth Silver is co-chair of the House of Commons Skills Commission and chaired the 2010 Task Force on the Future of the Careers Profession (England).

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