Is careers advice in schools just a waste of time?

With National Careers Week under way, we take a look at current careers advice in schools and find out how the government’s Careers Strategy might help to shape the future and address the skills gap.

Is careers advice in schools just a waste of time?
In December 2017, the UK government launched its new Careers Strategy. It aims to transform the careers system to ensure that every student – regardless of their age and background – has access to careers provision that enables them to make the most of their talents and abilities.Whilst many schools and organisations were offering careers advice, the provision was variable – in some cases inadequate – and the new strategy seeks to provide a level playing field for everyone.

Priorities for the new Careers Strategy

The strategy is based around four principles:
  • A high quality careers programme for every school
  • Opportunities for work experience
  • Tailored support for students
  • Careers information
Education Providers are also required to publish details of their careers programme on their website to improve accountability.

The importance of expert advice 

“There's a lack of knowledge about the opportunities out there because career advice is ceded too often to teachers whose primary sphere of experience is teaching,” explains Edd Williams, author of Is Your School Lying to You – a How To careers guide which aims to help students identify what they really want out of life.“The hoped for outcome [of the new Careers Strategy] is that schools and colleges will be honest about what they can't do and seek providers who can offer real advice grounded in fact, experience and expertise. The fact that it's now a statutory requirement may make that hope come true.”

Business and school engagement

The strategy includes measures, which highlight the importance of business engagement with schools. By 2020, all schools and colleges will be required to offer at least one encounter with employers for every student each year.
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This should force employers and schools to increasingly partner to help shape the employment choices of the workforce of the future.Business and school engagement is a hot topic in education as it may be one way to help to address the skills shortage. The problem is that historically business and school partnerships and work experience opportunities have been patchy at best.According to research by Placer, a platform that aims to increase the number of university students gaining work experience, there are 2.3 million university students in the UK and only 3,165 work experience opportunities. The result is that many companies are unable to recruit work-ready graduates with the skills they need.

The benefits of work experience

David Docherty, CEO of the National Centre for Universities and Business (NCUB), and chairman of Placer believes that work experience offers clear benefits for both students and employers alike.“Even though the UK is seeing growth in employment, we are still faced with a significant skills gap,” he warns. “Because of this it is now more important than ever for businesses to look for ways to adapt and plan how they will secure the skills they need for the future.“More businesses should look to offer work experience as it allows us to develop the future skills we need. Through it employers can begin to develop work-ready graduates, plug their own skills gap and create a fully-rounded future workforce.“Offering work experience opportunities enables talented students to gain vital workplace skills so they can contribute to the labour market more quickly and effectively.”

Navigating an uncertain future job market

Edd Williams agrees that work experience is a vital component of the careers provision in schools, enabling students to fully explore their options.“Good careers advice is predicated on helping students figure out what they like and are good at. By exposing them to the professional sphere it's the quickest and easiest route to help them determine or refute a path,” says Mr Williams.“Plus they add to their CV and build their professional network. So, schools must help students to access work experience and professionals working in their field.”But students are having to navigate an increasingly uncertain future, one where the careers of today may not be the careers of the future. Technology and automation will result in some jobs becoming redundant and a skills requirement for jobs that do not even exist yet. How do students go about exploring their options and future-proofing their choice of career?Mr Williams believes that there are many advantages to the constant state of flux in the job market and the automation of many traditional careers.“The flipside is that companies are changing too and now a range of skills that you add to throughout your career will keep you relevant for the long term,” he says. “We are now in a global marketplace so the best advice is to embrace opportunity and indeed seek it out wherever it may take you and not to be too parochial in your outlook.“Being nimble and constantly seeking to develop your skills helps you to future-proof yourself – even if the job you thought would be your career changes, you can evolve with it.”

The vital role of businesses 

Businesses also need to lead the way by rethinking the way that they do training. Work experience has a vital role to play in equipping students with the right skills, explains Placer’s Mr Docherty, “Students currently in education are going to be working in an environment that will potentially be very different than it is today because of rapid advances in technology.” “The skills they will need for future jobs will also differ, so to prepare the future workforce with the right set of skills, organisations need to rethink their training resources.“Offering work experience opportunities can help with this by giving students an insight into real workplaces and a better understanding of what skills they need to have a successful career.”“We have seen that students who undertake work experience while they are still in education are work ready and able to hit the ground running. This is because they gain hands-on experience and develop much needed employability skills before leaving education.”As the Careers Strategy is rolled out in phases through to the end of 2020, schools and businesses in the UK will be forced to adapt and change. It is hoped that as careers provision improves, it will result in better engagement with businesses, clearer advice for students and better opportunities to truly explore career paths through work experience.Is careers advice just a waste of time? Perhaps it seemed that way in the past, but with the new government investment it looks like students will have opportunities to explore a much brighter future.
Two new school categories have been added to our annual Relocate Awards for 2018 – School Providing Outstanding Relocation Support and Inspiring Future Careers – Best Employer & School(s) Initiative but you must be quick! Entries close 31 March 2018
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