Coalition cuts have left school leavers with insufficient guidance in today's complex labour market
Unveiling their education manifesto today, Labour have revealed plans to provide face-to-face advice from trained careers advisers to all college and secondary school pupils, beginning at the age of 11. They have also announced that they will reverse the coalition’s decision to scrap compulsory work experience for 14-16-year-olds.
Careers advice services have deteriorated badly over the last five years, leading CBI director John Cridland to describe it as a system on ‘life support’.
Slow economic growth and a changing labour market mean that school leavers face unprecedented challenges in finding work. More people enter higher education than ever before, and jobs that did not traditionally require degrees, such as retail management and educational support, are demanding higher skills that can be gained from degrees. Additionally, more people are working in part time, flexible roles, making job security a concern.
Last month, analysis of government statistics showed that young people are nearly three times more likely to be unemployed than the rest of the population, with a 14.4 per cent unemployment rate compared to 5.7 per cent.
At this time, young people and school leaders need strong advice more than ever. Yet David Cameron has slashed careers services – by up to 50 per cent in some areas – after dismissing the Connexions services as ‘not a great success story’.
Connexions was cut back to become a phone and online service, after the 2011 Education Act took responsibility for careers guidance away from local authorities and placed it solely on schools. In January 2013 a committee of MPs found that this had led to a ‘worrying deterioration’ in the quality of services provided, and said that the ‘consistency, quality, independence and impartiality of careers guidance’ had been affected. They recommended urgent action.
Yet in December 2013 the Career Development Institute (CDI) expressed concern that the government refused to acknowledge how they were damaging the career chances of young people; at a committee hearing Michael Gove said there was ‘no evidence’ that the coalition had made ‘a bad situation worse’.
This led the CDI’s president Karen O’Donoghue to say of Mr Gove:
“It’s hardly reasonable to discount the views of the ministerially appointed National Careers Council, Ofsted, the CBI, Association of Colleges, The Association of School and College Leaders and the British Chambers of Commerce.”
Pathways to the workplace have been taken away, leaving pupils feeling stranded and lost; pointing them towards online information is not an adequate substitute for face-to-face guidance. Automated services can only do so much, and cannot tailor the options they present to the needs and skills of a specific person. Referring students to a computer rather than a real person is also not especially good for morale.
This issue is integral to Britain’s future prosperity, and must be addressed if we want to give young people a chance to thrive in today’s difficult labour market, which is a daunting place for many.
Ruby Stockham is a staff writer at Left Foot Forward. Follow her on TwitterLike this article? Sign up to Left Foot Forward's weekday email for the latest progressive news and comment - and support campaigning journalism by making a donation today.