The lack of a coherent careers advice strategy is bad for young people and bad for business, says Chief Executive, Alice Barnard

Scrolling through the morning’s media clips I was struck by the juxtaposition of two stories both on the BBC website. The education section was leading with ‘Ministers have been accused of “burying their heads in the sand” over the poor state of careers education’; the business section led with a survey by the Chartered Institute of Management Accountants, which has found that 8 out of 10 British school-leavers “lack essential business skills” such as numeracy.

The former picked up on the criticism by the House of Commons Sub-Committee on Education, Skills and the Economy, led by MPs Neil Carmichael and Iain Wright, of the Government’s failure to act on its recommendations to improve careers guidance for young people, a longstanding challenge facing schools.

Edge has long been an advocate of the importance of quality careers guidance to give all young people the opportunity to understand the breadth of career opportunities, focus their studies and see the real world relevance of what they are learning. The evidence shows that young people who attend careers advice talks by professionals between the ages of 14 and 16, earn more ten years into their careers. Each talk equates to around 1.6 per cent extra on your future salary. For those from less affluent backgrounds, it can be even more valuable.

At the Edge Annual Lecture last month, the Skills and Apprenticeships Minister made the excellent point that effective careers guidance interventions have to grow from grassroots initiatives.

Projects such as Business in Classrooms and the Crewe Pledge demonstrate that generating links between local businesses and schools can have a profound impact, introducing students to a wider spectrum of career options and helping them to see the connection between lessons learned in the classroom and the talents and qualities employers are looking for. For young people living in disadvantaged households, such interventions are a powerful tool for social mobility, something the Prime Minister claims to be very keen on!

These initiatives cannot be delivered for free. Schools have been given the responsibility for careers guidance, but not the necessary cash. Schemes such as Inspiring the Future and Edge’s own Career Footsteps, where professionals talk about their careers in the classroom, are a valuable resource, but teachers often have little experience or knowledge of career pathways such as apprenticeships, narrowing options for many students for whom university may not be the most appropriate route to a career.

If we fail to have a coherent careers strategy the implications are much wider than how successfully or otherwise we direct young people into the job market; which leads me to the second BBC article about the Chartered Institute of Management Accountants survey. It found more than 80 per cent of young people “lack essential business skills” such as numeracy; up from 75 per cent last year.

New recruits are said to be ill-equipped with people skills, business skills and technical skills, but the impact is not just on their career prospects. Over 90 per cent of the UK employers surveyed said their workload had increased as a result of skills shortages; two thirds agreed the consequence had been an increase in stress levels on staff and 44 per cent said it had negatively affected productivity.

The continuing conversation about the ‘skills gap’ and how we ensure people are equipped with the skills our digital economy needs in a post-Brexitlandscape, tends to focus on where we source our personnel. Instead we should be considering how we ensure all young people are equipped to forge successful careers whether that’s in our growing creative industries, using the latest technology or developing new technologies for the next century.

This means a curriculum which offers the opportunity to study practical and technical subjects alongside core academic ones; profound employer engagement initiatives providing talks, visits, work experience and project-based learning making classroom lessons relevant to the world of work and high quality career guidance to expand young people’s horizons and help them find their own path to success.

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