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ViewPoint: Reasons to be Cheerful About Careers Education?
March 6, 2020

By John Yarham

Arguing about whether a glass is half-empty or half-full is a futile task. The whole point is that both are true, depending on your perspective.

John Yarham, Interim Chief Executive at the Careers & Enterprise Company
John Yarham, Interim Chief Executive at the Careers & Enterprise Company

The more helpful point to debate is whether the glass is filling-up or emptying. Are schools making progress, or are they falling behind? Are we moving in the right direction, or are we going backwards?

It’s National Careers Week this week, as well as being the last year of the Government’s Careers Strategy.

So now is a good time to have that debate about the state of careers education.

Research informed debate

Two recent pieces of research have helped to inform the debate. Education and Employers published a report looking at the careers aspirations of young people. Just over half of young people (53%) felt that their school or college had spent enough time helping them to understand future career options.

A month ago we also published research that took a measurement of the state of careers education provision in schools and colleges across the country. Specifically, we looked at how many young people are benefitting from the opportunity to regularly interact with employers while at school.

This matters in the real world because there is a weight of evidence that enjoying more ‘employer encounters’ while at school improves young people’s employability and earnings in later life. It even has an impact on their motivation and results while at school.

It matters to the Government so much that in 2017, they set an ambitious target that every single young person in the country would benefit from at least one such ‘employer encounter’ every year by the end of 2020.

A long way to go

Our report highlighted that one-in-five young people are still missing out on such regular employer encounters. On its own, this stat could leave us with the feeling that the glass was very much half-empty. And we’re first ones to admit there is a long way to go.

But it’s important that people don’t lose sight of the fact that careers education has been transformed for the better over last couple of years. There is strong evidence that schools and colleges are going in the right direction. And most importantly many, many more young people are benefiting.

In 2017, the year the Government published the Careers Strategy setting these targets, we made our first assessment to provide a baseline. This showed that to meet these targets, schools, colleges and businesses would need to work together to provide an additional 1.2million employer encounters every single year by the end of 2020. A huge task.

More and more young people benefiting

The evidence we published last month showed that as of July 2019, this gap had fallen massively. In just two years, and from a standing start, half a million more young people every year are benefiting from meeting employers.

There is still a big gap to fill, and it’s not going to be easy or straightforward. But this represents significant progress, and a significant benefit for more and more young people. The gap was never going to be closed overnight.

The approach that this country is taking to careers education is like nothing that has gone before. Reflecting the autonomy of schools and colleges, an emphasis has been placed on providing them with the tools and support to drive improvement themselves.

Employers have been at the forefront of efforts to support young people, with a common language – the Gatsby Benchmarks – underpinning all activity. Over the last couple of years, schools, colleges, employers have bought into this approach and young people are enjoying the benefits.

Ambitious goals, but the approach is working

The period from July 2019 to the end of 2020 has given schools and colleges 18 months to make more progress against the Careers Strategy ambition. The energy and thrust schools, colleges and employers are showing provides confidence that we can reduce the gap much more.

It was right that the Careers Strategy set ambitious goals that are hard to achieve, even if that can sometimes make the scale of the task seem daunting. So, at this point in time, is the glass half-full or half-empty? Well, we fully expect that debate to continue, and we welcome the healthy challenge provided.

But it would be a shame if that debate made us lose sight of the fact that the approach we’re taking is working. It would be a mistake to go back to a time when work experience was a box ticking exercise, rather than something schools could own as part of their commitments to students’ well-being.

More and more young people are benefiting and that’s what matters.

John Yarham, Interim Chief Executive at the Careers & Enterprise Company

John was previously chief executive at Futures Management Group, and director of economic development and skills and learning at Nottingham City Council.

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