INDEPENDENT CAREERS ADVICE-ASSISTS SOCIAL MOBILITY
Policy on Careers advice being decided now-professionals need to make their voice heard
Social Mobility was high on the last Government’s agenda, and it is a priority shared by the Coalition Government.
As well as being of importance to the individuals concerned, social mobility is also important for society and for the economy. This is now widely accepted and part of mainstream thinking, informed by evidence.
The Coalition Governments programme was unequivocal – “We both want a Britain where social mobility is unlocked; where everyone, regardless of background, has the chance to rise as high as their talents and ambition allow them. To pave the way, we have both agreed to sweeping reform of welfare, taxes and, most of all, our schools.” (The Coalition: Our Programme for Government, 2010).
Michael Gove, the Education Secretary, has said that schools must be the ‘engines of social mobility’. Alan Milburn, a former Labour Cabinet Minister who delivered a seminal report on social mobility to the last Government, is now an adviser to this Government.
But improving education is not a stand-alone panacea to improve social mobility.
There are other inter-related and mutually supportive factors at play. As politicians champion more choice, individuals are required to make more informed choices at different stages in their lives, and more so now than ever before. They need support in this. Individuals change their career paths more frequently than ever before and a “job for life” is no longer the norm. So ensuring that they are better positioned to choose the options that best suit them, with the skills for career management and career development is crucial .
Hence, having easy access to relevant, independent, high quality information advice and guidance, informed by the labour market, is essential.
Social mobility is broadly dependent on individuals being empowered to take action. As Professor Alison Wolf (currently heading a review on 14-19vocational qualifications for the government) said “ Informed choices have to be a key goal but everyone has to take responsibility for the decisions they make”
So, access to sound professional advice is important for all individuals from as young as 13- choosing for instance what subjects to study at GCSE or their equivalent, to meet their career aspirations – to a fifty year old adult wishing to train and re-skill for a different work role and seeking advice as to what options are available .
A Nuffield Review (2008) suggested that ‘all education and training providers, in conjunction with Connexions, need to develop more effective Information, Advice and Guidance services to ensure an appropriate match between student, provider and course.’ With the job market more competitive now than it has been in a long time, this requirement is even more pressing. A consensus is developing though around certain approaches . It suggests that while careers advice and guidance is being offered to some pupils, either through schools, the Connexions service or colleges, this advice is too often of variable quality and too rarely delivered by a professional who is properly qualified. In Connexions case, the prevailing wisdom amongst policy makers (whether factual or not) is that advice is prioritised to target those threatened with exclusion, and this service is currently suffering draconian cuts across local authorities (who have responsibility for Connexions), with damaging effects upon careers support in particular. There is also a growing feeling (and expected to be announced shortly as confirmed Government policy) that there should be an all-age service and that it must ensure sufficient support for both adults and young people, without disadvantaging either. The Conservatives before the election had committed themselves to an all age Careers Service and an adviser in every secondary school . But there is growing frustration among guidance and careers professionals of a policy vacuum developing, with Connexions cuts decimating services and still no clear steer from Ministers, post election or clear vision for the proposed all age service and too little meaningful dialogue between them, the Government and officials.
A recent report from Careers England (August 2010) ‘Social mobility of young people and adults in England: the contribution and impact of high quality careers services’ reflects some of this frustration. It states ‘The creation of an all-age careers service that would replace/incorporate the careers advice offered to young people by the Connexions, currently run by local authorities, and the national Careers Advice Service for adults has yet to be fully articulated by the new Coalition Government, nor have plans been discussed yet with employers in the careers sector and allied careers professional associations.’
The limitations of unsuitably qualified teachers giving advice to pupils, that is often partial, has been highlighted often enough by the professionals, backed by international studies.
The Careers Alliance (Careers England, ICG, NCN and ACEG) has pressed for assurances from the Government that it will favour a partnership model with careers advisers working within institutions from their position of independence by being employed by the all age careers service, and bringing labour market and wider opportunity market information into every school and college.
It wants the Government’s help to build capacity, assure quality, and promote expansion in careers support activities for all UK citizens through a new and dynamic re-engineered system that also takes account of both formal and informal careers services and careers support activities. And it wants support for the careers sector to raise the status of the profession and improve its all-round stature.
Politicians consistently stress the importance of universal access to good information and guidance, yet fall short when it comes to creating the enabling environment, with the resources to make it happen. Yes, we have to be realistic as there are on-going cuts to services but it is clear that much more can be achieved, within existing funding constraints, with some fundamental re-engineering of the architecture – and, most importantly, effective careers advice and guidance has economic pay-offs, enabling more people to engage successfully in learning, succeed in work, become tax-payers, assist wealth creation and contribute to the public purse rather than become a drain upon it .
Professionals have been active in trying to focus the attention of politicians now on the importance of resourcing a reinvigorated careers service for all, realising that now is the vital period to seek to reshape the policy landscape. There is a UK Careers Sector Strategic Forum operating . Also a Careers Profession Alliance (formerly a Colloquium) has been formed recently, in an attempt by careers professional associations to work better together in providing a single voice to Government on the design and development of an all-age careers service framework in England.
Careers England, the trade association for employer organisations in career education and guidance in England, has expanded its membership and influence recently (see report) and is seen as an important voice for the employers of careers guidance professionals . It is organising a number of key meetings with DfE and DBIS officials and its Task Groups.
The Institute for Careers Guidance also plays an important role and through its President Dr Deidre Hughes, it has been arguing robustly the case in the media and behind the scenes for an all age careers service framework. The ICG’s annual conference takes place in Belfast this November http://www.icg-uk.org/annual_careers_summit.html and John Hayes, the Minister responsible for the new Government’s Careers Service policy, is a key speaker.
The immediate challenge is to formulate a coherent, clear narrative describing what is needed, how it can be delivered and at what cost to decision makers and opinion formers.
The Careers Profession Taskforce in England led by Dame Ruth Silver CBE, commissioned by the former Department for Children, Schools and Families (DCSF), is due to report to the Government this autumn .Its recommendations will have the full endorsement of the careers sector as well as the Association of School and College Leaders. It is to be hoped that Ministers will listen to the informed and expert views of the professionals as it shapes its careers service policy.
Towards a Strong Careers Profession’
The report of the Careers Profession Task Force
October 15 2010:
The report of the Careers Profession Task Force has been published on the Department for Education website. ICG President Dr Deirdre Hughes was one of the Task Force members, representing the Institute and the profession.
Commenting on the report, she said: “Individuals’ aspirations and achievements must be nurtured and supported so that they can maximise their talents and lead fulfilling lives. The Careers Profession Taskforce has recognised this and the growing need for individuals to have access to reliable and impartial careers information, advice and guidance. Its key findings provide an ambitious and exciting blueprint for the careers profession to build on best practice and to improve the stature and profile of its work. Clearly, having a strengthen careers profession will improve social mobility and achieve greater prosperity for future generations.”