Friday, 10 April 2015

What might Labour's 21st century careers service look like?

Yesterday Labour Party leader, Ed Miliband launched his Education manifesto. And at the heart of it a commitment to offer independent, impartial, face to face careers advice for young people from age 11 (year 7).

Central features which have been outlined include recruitment by the National Careers Service of up to 1,000 careers advisers. Each adviser might work with a cluster of 2-3 schools. They'd be professionally qualified although whether that would actually be qualified to level 6 isn't confirmed. Many advisers currently working in schools won't hold this level of qualification. It also isn't clear if advisers would need to be on the UK register of career development professionals.

While the Conservative Party responded that funding of the proposals had not been made clear, the Labour Party argues it has earmarked £50m of the £700m currently available for universities to promote wider access to higher education. The National Union of Students and the Association of Colleges both welcomed this announcement, although some other bodies such as the Association of School and College Lecturers called for funding to be devolved to schools.

There are many unanswered questions about exactly what such a careers service might like look like.

Ed Miliband described current provision as "badly, badly failing" and called for a "personalised integrated independent advice which brings together all the options open to every young person”.

Schools and colleges are to contribute by embedding careers (advice) in the curriculum. Does this mean a return to having a careers education curriculum? Perhaps not, since in the same speech Labour talked of not tinkering with the curriculum because schools need stability not constant change. But at the same time it was made clear institutions should not be stopping their activity around work experience, raising awareness of options, participating in skills shows etc.

Miliband described his vision of a "21st century world class careers service" with three important drivers:

1. Delivering social justice: Helping connect young people with opportunities where currently parental support, access to mentors or strong social networks are major determinants of whether an individual can access them.

2. Meeting the needs of tomorrow's economy: Providing up-to-date knowledge of pathways to high level technical and vocational skills.

3. Providing independent advice: ensuring every young person is advised on every option open to them, not just those that an institution might deem most appropriate.

Of course all this is academic unless Labour is part of the next administration. But a Labour government or Labour-led coalition would certainly see fundamental change to careers advice and guidance. All the same, the manifesto raises important issues and questions which may influence future provision for the better.

Even though there is strong emphasis on "face to face" provision, this should not be taken to preclude the use of technology. There is an emphasis in this policy on expertise and on networks and connections (Note no X in the spelling) so while an adviser working with 3 schools in 1 cluster might be a generalist, their links to the NCS might give them access to employers and careers professionals with sector expertise or specialism able to offer personalised advice, or deliver very focused webinars on different industries or occupations. It was suggested by Labour that advisers will need links with Local Enterprise Partnerships so that they fully understand local skills needs. Careers advice will need to be informed by labour market intelligence.

The involvement of the National Careers Service could well extend beyond one of simply hiring individual advisers or sub-contracting to freelancers or careers companies. The current role of NCS in brokering greater contact between education and employers could be further strengthened. Labour's ambitions to improve uptake of STEM careers (and particularly by girls) could also influence future service design.

The policy document makes interesting reading, but the devil is of course in the detail. It's also worth mentioning that much of the newly refreshed coalition statutory guidance to schools on careers work would seem likely to survive and support what Tristram Hunt and Ed Miliband hope to achieve with their policy on careers work. There remains a strong place for employers and industry to work alongside careers professionals and teachers to ensure young people gain an understanding of business and enterprise. The difference with the Labour policy is the assertion that independent and impartial professional careers advice is necessary alongside continuing employer engagement.

Download the education manifesto here.
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