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ViewPoint: Careers Advisers – Are We Ready for the New Normal?
August 26, 2020
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By Sarfraz Ahmed, Careers Advisors, Leicester College

Since March 2020, the vast majority of career services, and providers such as schools, colleges and universities transferred all their services to providing a service remotely.

© Sarfraz Ahmed, August 2020 - Member of the Careers Writers Association

For our own health and safety, the vast majority of us worked from home.

Through the combination use of:

  • Telephone Guidance
  • Video Chat
  • Live Streams
  • E-guidance
  • Social Media

In the wake of the Covid-19 pandemic, all of us have had to rethink the way we work and engage with our customers, Although this has meant a shift in the way that we engage with our customers, it has been a positive in the sense that many of us have had to embrace technology such as using Zoom, Microsoft Teams, using Streamyard for Live Streams.

Personally, whilst in lockdown, I’ve had the opportunity to record my first podcast and been a guest on local radio in Leicester and nationally as well. Telephone guidance has been successful for providing advice especially to support Educational, Healthcare Plans (EHCP) reviews, and has allowed the College Careers Team to effectively support the work of Additional Support Managers to effectively provide progression for students from their current course.

Live streaming has taken Careers Advisers and placed them in front of a ‘live’ audience albeit through a variety of social media platforms. This has for many taken away from the traditional method of delivery and has taken them out of their comfort zones. Live streaming can be daunting, as not only are you seeing yourself on a screen for the first time, but your advice and the way that you give that advice is immortalised online, and available on a variety of platforms such as Facebook Live and YouTube. Live stream content can be readily accessed time and time again, locally, nationally and internationally, as with any careers activity, preparation and practise is essential something that is crucial for a success live stream.

Another activity that careers advisers have engaged in is blogging, whether its physically writing articles or ‘blogs’ or creating ‘video blogs’ or podcasts. I personally find these a fun way to engage with an audience, and often practitioners point of view will provide real life context that may support an academic piece of research. Lockdown and working from home has given rise to engaging in webinars, within a week I could be engaging in at least four or five webinars a week. These were provided by universities, colleges, careers publications and websites.

I particular found the webinars from Youth Employment UK, Career Pilot, Amazing Apprenticeships, DMH Associates and EMSI particular useful and informative. Engaging with other professionals can make you feel that you are part of wider collective, especially we are all in the ‘same boat’, and a lot of the issues and concerns we had were similar. Often these webinars led to further debate and discussion on sites such as LinkedIn, as shared our thoughts, articles and findings and collectively we supported each other online.

Now three months on, the ideas of going back to work in the office can appear to be a very daunting thought to say the least

Talking to career professionals there are many areas of concern. First and foremost safety and protection for both themselves and those that they serve, whether or the use of screens and Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) such as masks, gloves and hand sanitisers will be enough to adequate protection. Will social distancing be feasible within a careers setting such as in interview rooms and in offices where we provide 1:1 careers guidance, interview rooms will have to ventilated and not crowded and be able to provide adequate protection, this includes spaces such as classrooms and group work settings. Large assemblies and events will have to take account health and safety issues and in many cases will have to be re-thought.

There clearly needs to be a more flexible approach to working, as the last few months have shown that many career services can be run successfully remotely. This could include a more staggered return to the office allowing some staff to work from home, so that staff is not in the office at the same time, ensuring that social distancing guidelines are met.

In the past few months many of us have embraced technology, especially the use of Microsoft Teams to have meetings with colleagues, to contact students, to conduct video interviews, and deliver group work sessions online. This shift for many has been challenging and a huge learning curve as prior to the lockdown very few of us used Microsoft Teams or any other similar technology.

I feel a ‘blended approach’ is crucial for a safe return to going back to work, although working from home can still be maintained to a certain extent. Travelling to and from work and to other venues are also issues for many career advisers as safety could be also be an issue on public transport. For those working in schools, colleges and universities, there is still a concern of potential risk of having large number people gathered in one place and how this will be managed and maintained.

The recent upsurge of interest in career guidance as well as the government’s commitment has meant that the government will be looking to increase the number of advisers to help address issues of unemployment and misplacement as a result of the coronavirus pandemic. As such we do not know how this will be tackled and indeed if there enough advisers to meet the demand, we will have to wait and see.

Many careers professionals have been concerned about the level of pay and its inconsistency across the board. Career advisers in schools and colleges are yet to be paid a wage that is reflects their level 6 minimum level of qualification, (equivalent to degree Level) and many have additional postgraduate qualifications and higher as well as the constant research and training necessary to keep up to date, especially in times of change, this has been evident in the recent pandemic crisis.

In recent times due a shift in policy which has led to a downsizing of services such as Connexions, meant many Careers Advisers have had to refocus and retrain and as such the profession has lost a lot of talented and dedicated advisers, through a barrage of pay cuts, redundancies and a loss of opportunity to progress in their own careers. Clearly these underlying issues will still need to be addressed if the is a demand for careers advisers in the future.

Why careers guidance is more important than ever

Interesting enough Sir John Holman’s recent blog entitled “Why careers guidance is more important than ever”, published on the Association of Colleges (AoC) website (10 July 2020), highlighting the need for good careers guidance, especially in the current climate.

He also emphasised that careers guidance needs to be a priority in schools and colleges, and that careers guidance needs to be taken seriously and that commitment needs to come from the top through Career Leads, ensuring that “careers is being embedded across the curriculum”.

He felt that “Colleges are critical for protecting those vulnerable students in their community who have most to lose as the jobs market goes through turbulent change. As job opportunities disappear, new ones will appear, and good career guidance can steer students towards them.

Recent governments guidelines in terms of the Gatsby Benchmarks (2014), and the Careers Strategy (2017), will still have to be adhered to, however Careers Services and Advisers may need to rethink the way there guidance is delivered in a post Covid world.

As careers resources may need to be adapted traditional guidance techniques for a new generation, using new technology to deliver to groups, and to perhaps adopt a more ‘blended’ approach, through the use of live streams, and uploading content onto readily accessible platforms such as Facebook Live and YouTube.

In preparing for the new normal, our services and our practises will need to be flexible and adapts to ensure that we operate in a safe environment that helps to meet the needs of our customers more than ever.

New T Level Guide for Teachers and Careers Advisers

The Department for Education T Levels team has created a new T Level guide for Teachers and Careers Advisers.

This new guide is available to download from the Amazing Apprenticeships site here.

T Levels Guide