Navigating the drive from education to employment

By David Sims

Friday 7 March 2014

Inspiring young people to raise their aspirations, achieve their potential and make successful transitions from education to work is a goal we all share. But finding a job and building a career are major challenges for young people in today’s labour market.

As yet, there is no Sat Nav available to make sure they arrive safely at their intended employment destination! So, how can we equip young people with the knowledge and skills they need to make decisions about their future?

National Careers and National Apprenticeship awareness campaigns have been in full swing this week. These high-profile campaigns provide information on a wide range of careers as well as careers guidance activities. But what is happening at school level? I am looking forward with interest to see what impact the Deputy Prime Minister’s recent announcement about careers advice has on provision. He said that the Government is going to issue new guidance to schools setting out what good careers advice should look like so that all young people have access to comprehensive information about vocational programmes.

It’s worth reflecting on the telling case for improving careers provision made by Ofsted in its report on careers guidance in schools, Going in the right direction? (2013). It noted that: “The information students received about careers was too narrow. Too many students were unaware of the wide range of occupations and careers that they might consider … Schools did not work well enough with employers to provide their students with direct experience of the world of work, which would help to broaden students’ minds about possible future employment.”

Employers have a key role to play in exposing young people to work cultures, procedures and behaviours. In its recently published guide, Not just making tea … Reinventing work experience (2014), the UK Commission for Employment and Skills (UKCES) exhorts employers to link with schools in order to inspire and raise the ambitions of young people. This call to action is welcome given recent reports and commentaries spotlighting young people’s supposed lack of readiness for employment and the disturbingly high level of youth unemployment which can have scarring effects on ‘a lost generation’.

Broadening young people’s understanding of what work and careers involve is also exactly what UKCES seeks to achieve through encouraging employers to diversify their engagement with schools. The guide reminds employers that a work experience placement is not the only opportunity they can offer.  Providing information on careers, conducting mock interviews, doing talks in schools, hosting site visits, setting and assessing problem-solving challenges, running CV-writing workshops and mentoring are some of the ways employers can give young people experience of the world of work.

This wider definition of the experience of the world of work was debated at the Education and Employers Taskforce Third Research Conference Exploring school-to-work transitions in international perspectives which I attended recently. In our presentation of the findings from NFER’s evaluation of the Work Experience Placement Trials commissioned by the Department for Education, my colleague Sarah Lynch and I identified the steps to providing high-quality work experience including the appointment of a college coordinator, the preparation of students and employers, and evaluation and review linked to students’ learning objectives. These quality steps are of course applicable to other types of education through the world of work.

So, what more needs to be done?

 Educators and employers need to increase their engagement and partnerships to provide a range of high-quality learning experiences which will enable young people to make informed decisions and navigate successful transitions to a bright future.