Why careers education needs international inspiration

What can the UK learn from around the world when it comes to careers advice and guidance?

Which way to turn on careers guidance? What the UK can learn from abroad about

When creating something new for the UK, it makes sense to take a look at the wider world to get a better understanding of what’s already out there and what’s working internationally.

This approach of considering best practice is not rocket science by any means and, in fact, it potentially saves a huge amount of effort. Why start from scratch to come up with new ideas when there are tried-and-tested techniques/products that would potentially work (albeit with some adaptations) for your particular market and audience?


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Careers education

Careers education is clearly something that we haven't got quite right in this country. A number of reasons can be cited for this – not enough funding, accountability, lack of prominence in the national curriculum…the list goes on. But the fact remains that high-quality careers education is crucial if young people are to be given the best possible chance to successfully progress from school/college/university into great jobs.

We have seen some investment in careers education projects for primary schools and funding for virtual career hubs to coordinate training and support employer brokering services. But, culturally, the emphasis in the UK has been on public sector leadership of employer engagement.

Many countries around the world have taken a very different approach to careers education, with encouraging results. So, perhaps it is time to look further afield and take inspiration from the international community. 

Take Finland – a European country with comparable economic drivers and social context to the UK. Much greater resource is dedicated to careers education there, and the subject is a compulsory element of the curriculum. It comprises around 76 hours of scheduled "careers ed" activities in the students’ timetables during the equivalent of Years 7-9. In addition, there is an entitlement for individual and group guidance together with compulsory work experience periods. And for younger children in Finland (grades 1-6), careers guidance is embedded within the classroom.

Expert guidance

Crucially, students are also entitled to expert careers guidance at school one year after completing upper secondary level if they have not been enrolled in further education. For those young people starting vocational education and training programmes (VET) there is one compulsory ECVET module on the development of lifelong career management skills. Each student is entitled to a customised learning plan – supporting them to consider their post-education plans.

Finland and its neighbour Norway are also leading the way with physical careers guidance centres (Ohjaamo centres) – which are also found in Australia. The Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development’s international conference in June referenced this work, highlighting the benefit of these centres to promote active citizenship, inclusion and transition to employment. They are cross-sectoral, providing a range of outreach services to support young people, including: employment and youth services; career practitioners; social/health professionals; and a range of charities.

This model is similar to the vision of Manor Property Group, which is developing a network of careers hubs. The first of these Qdos Career Hubs is planned to serve East Yorkshire, where youth unemployment has been rising, major skills shortages are evident and apprenticeship take-up is very low.

And, as is evident from Finland’s experience, the establishment of one-stop guidance centres is having a positive impact, with respondents feeling they were better involved in decision making about their own lives. This is exactly what Manor expects to achieve with our project – benefiting the local, regional and national economy and skills market.

Industry involvement

Another key theme, which comes through strongly when looking at Finland’s successful implementation of careers guidance, is the involvement of industry. Privatisation of services is always a contentious point in the UK, but is a common feature of careers guidance services in other countries. Over the past 10 years in Finland, the role of the private sector has increased, introducing more varied and flexible services. These have included online careers information and self-assessment tools as well as national projects to support continuous learning.

And in Canada, there has been substantial commercial investment from industry into career development. It is widely accepted that that industry-led education in Canada is progressive – offering much best practice for the UK to take note of. An example of this is RBC, Canada’s largest bank, committing to investing CA$500 million (£288 million) over 10 years in the Future Launch programme to help young people succeed in the emergent labour market. 

We have seen employability online programmes from major banks and financial institutions in the UK but we don’t culturally promote industry engagement in leadership of pioneering public services. Via its network of Qdos Career Hubs, Manor is keen to demonstrate how smaller businesses in the UK can create a legacy for their communities, supporting growth of the economy and young people, hand in hand.

Crucially, careers guidance gives young people a broader view of the opportunities available to them. It also offers employers the chance to consider their future skills needs and engage with the very audience they need to support these needs. A win-win.

Learning lessons from abroad reflects the necessity of taking an international view on these issues. We are operating in a global digital economy and this means opening young people’s eyes to how industry is working – now and in the future, here and abroad.

Ruth Gilbert is group education director at Manor Property Group and an honorary fellow at UCL Institute of Education

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