When I was young and considering what career I might want to do when I grew up, the careers advice available to me was pretty much non-existent.
As a result, as many people did then and do today, I fell – luckily – into my first job.
While this haphazard method of career development worked out well for me – not least because I had the backing and advice of my parents – that is unfortunately not the case for everyone. We know that without robust careers advice available to all, social mobility is severely hampered and people from more disadvantaged backgrounds are far less likely to achieve their potential.
And young people aren’t the only ones who suffer the impact of poor careers advice. Last month, a poll of 7,000 employers by the British Chambers of Commerce placed skills shortages as one of the biggest perceived barriers to business growth, with 71 per cent stating that they were struggling to recruit the people they need.
It’s hardly surprising, given that many young people aren’t aware of those jobs being an option in the first place. Our 2015 research, Great Expectations, found that 14- to 19-year-olds in the UK were unaware of two-thirds of the potential jobs available to them.
The government’s new careers strategy has recognised these issues and has begun to put measures in place to attempt to resolve them.
Some £4 million of funding is being made available to provide every school and college with access to a careers advisor – and schools are being tasked with providing each pupil with at least one meaningful interaction with an employer. But is that enough? And will these changes actually work in practice?
Schools are already busy and it’s essential that they prioritise this agenda so that every child receives an equally high-quality experience. I would like to see the provision of quality careers guidance assessed by Ofsted in the same way as other equally important measures of success.
Alongside the lack of awareness about the jobs market, all of us working in the FE sector know that we face an uphill struggle to convince young people – and their parents – that professional and technical routes provide excellent progression to employment.
Our research found that only 19 per cent of young people felt that on-the-job training, such as an apprenticeship, was the route to a good job. This negative bias needs to be addressed if we are to make a change.
While there are many factors that have had an impact on the number of young people considering professional and technical education, there is no denying that the situation has been worsened by the fact that schools are not incentivised to let colleges and training providers have access to their students.
Many are reluctant to do so because they want to hang onto students to fill their own sixth forms, claim valuable funding for their own institutions and boost their school’s reputation by helping more students transition into A levels and university, even if it’s not the best option for them.
This problem runs right to the heart of the establishment. Throughout successive governments, academic routes have been lauded as being the holy grail and the only route to success. Thankfully, things are changing now, but changing deeply-ingrained beliefs takes time and persistence.
The Baker Amendment now compels schools to open their doors to colleges, training providers and university technical colleges, so students at least get to hear about the alternatives available to them.
While this is a great start, much more needs to be done to break down the barriers. Teachers need to be better educated about professional and technical routes and the benefits they can bring.
In addition, schools need to be measured on a broader set of success criteria, which recognises a student transitioning onto a professional and technical course or apprenticeship as holding the same value as an academic route.
If we really want this new approach to careers advice and guidance to succeed, we need to change the ways we measure success across the whole of the education sector whether it be FE, HE or schools.
Ultimately, the end goal of education shouldn’t be just about a university certificate. It should be giving young people the opportunity to access a great career. If we aren’t doing that, then we will never close the growing skills gap.
Kirstie Donnelly is managing director of City & Guilds