Campaign escalating for politicians to keep promise to create an  independent advice service


The government is being called on by Careers England, the Trade Association for employer organisations involved in products and services related to careers information, advice and guidance in England, to commission and fund careers advice centrally.

This would mean that the tendering for running these services locally would be handled at a national level and local careers services and indeed councils themselves could bid to run them. Currently draconian  local cuts are undermining the provision of information advice and guidance.  Careers England supports the concept of an all-age careers guidance service. A report, just out commissioned by Careers England  ‘ Social mobility of Young People and Adults in England: The Contribution and Impact of High Quality Careers Services, recommends a central government commissioning role and also highlights a number of previous academic research reports pointing to the links between a dedicated careers advice service and improved social mobility. This included a 2006 National Foundation for Educational Research survey that found pupils were motivated and had improved behaviour when given careers advice from professional advisers.  Coalition Ministers including Nick Gibb and David Willets have stressed the importance of good professional careers advice throughout adults lives and envisaged the development of an all age independent careers service.  Indeed, the Conservative Party, before the election , was  committed to the creation of an all-age careers service that would replace the careers advice offered to young people by Connexions, currently run by local authorities, Nextstep and the national Careers Advice Service for adults. They are also committed to placing a trained careers adviser in every secondary school and college.  The emphasis being on ‘trained’.  This  policy is clearly rooted in what they see as the failure of Connexions and Tory Ministers in the Coalition tend to share Alan Millburn’s view of Connexions-that it has been largely ineffective both in terms of quality and scope.  But Milburn’s Social Mobility report highlighted the importance of good  careers advice to  support the  social mobility agenda and he called for the careers advice function to be removed from Connexions.

A Conservative  pre-election Green Paper No. 7, ‚Building Skills, Transforming Lives – A Training And Apprenticeships Revolution‛, was explicit. It stated   ‘ We will also spend £100 million to create a new all-age careers advice service which will provide a community-based source of advice and guidance for people of all ages.’  Although there was no clear statement in their 2010 Manifesto, the Liberal Democrats, in their January 2009 Policy Paper No. 89, commit to an independent career and course advisory service for young people.

Schools provide some careers advice, but this is thought by many experts to be too variable in quality to be really effective for most pupils. There is also a question mark over its impartiality, given that schools, with sixth forms, have a vested financial interest in keeping pupils on their rolls post 16.  Indeed many teachers giving advice do not have the appropriate qualifications or knowledge of the job market, whether nationally or locally.  The Connexions Service also offers advice, targeted at young people and specifically the most disadvantaged but its priority is those threatened with exclusion and it has never been  resourced to deliver a truly all age universal careers service.  It is also suffering significant cuts in some regions around 50%.  Local Connexions services are largely funded by the Department for Education’s area-based grant, which was  just been reduced by 24 per cent. Connexions and Youth Services are seen as soft options for cuts it seems.

There is a growing realisation  that there  is a requirement for good professional advice throughout peoples working lives, not least because  the concept of a job for life in one company or indeed  in an increasing number of cases, in one profession, is no longer the norm. Indeed Ministers in the past have encouraged adults to re-train, re-skill and re-qualify to meet the shifting skills demands of the economy. If individuals are to be encouraged to make these big transitions, self-evidently, they need good advice.  Careers England too has  stressed the importance of information, advice and guidance for those aged 50+.  All parties believe that good careers advice  contributes  to ‘oiling’ the wheels of social mobility and economic prosperity for individuals, communities and the wider economy. And social mobility is high on the agenda (look at Michael Gove’s speeches).

Recently 12 Careers and guidance  organisations   have been appointed to deliver  Next Step, a free integrated adult careers service in England. Next Step makes information, advice and resources available online as well as through advisers on the telephone and face to face,  aimed at helping adults of all ages and at any stage in their lives, to make the right choices about skills, careers and qualifications.  The worry though is that both money and expertise is currently haemorrhaging from the system as big cuts are being made at the local level, particularly to Connexions(Birmingham may be about to abolish its Connexions service entirely) and with it the careers advice function, which means that the establishment of an  all age careers advice service is in danger of dropping off the political agenda. Hence calls for the Government to take the commissioning on, sooner rather than later.

Note: Careers England recently made it clear that it is keen to  work with the Government  to help develop the Welfare to Work programme as many of its members are already  contractors to the DWP.


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