There’s no doubting that careers advice has improved since my day

By Carole Willis

Wednesday 7 March 2018

...but there’s so much more that can and must be done

As National Careers Week gets underway, NFER’s Chief Executive, Carole Willis, talks about the careers education, information, advice and guidance (CEIAG) she received at school and gives her opinion on how things have changed. Her verdict? Things are better but still far from good enough.

What sort of careers advice was available when you were at school?

Honestly, looking back, it seems now that it was very limited. In fact, I don’t remember receiving much careers advice at all when I was young. Although I grew up in a very low-income household, I was fortunate in that I found a subject – economics – that I enjoyed, and had parents who constantly encouraged me to do well.  Plus I was quite good at exams. It was simply assumed that I would go to university. I was never given any information or advice about alternative routes to employment, or about alternative occupations. I consider myself very lucky that I enjoy the job I do now but, shown other options, I might have become an archaeologist…or a travel writer – you never know!

Why is careers education and guidance important for young people?

Every year more than one million young people make important subject choices that impact on their own personal journey from education to employment. They need our help to realise that the choices they make now, and their achievements at school, will have a big impact on their future careers and lives.

In order that they can make properly informed choices, they need access to CEIAG appropriate to their individual needs – information on all their possible options, including vocational and academic routes to employment, and possible future jobs and careers.  This, in turn, can help to engage them with education and give a focus to what – and why – they are studying.

Over the years, initiatives to improve the provision of CEIAG in schools have come and gone. Overall, things are undoubtedly better than in my day and NFER has played a part in providing evidence about what works and what doesn’t. But there is still so much more that needs to be done to ensure consistent provision and access to CEIAG across our school system.

There are so many different options for young people to choose from after compulsory education – and not all of them are the same quality or lead to the same opportunities. The Government is strengthening technical and professional education – in future, apprenticeships and new T-levels will sit alongside A-levels and traditional degrees. These pathways will involve different kinds of study arrangements, different amounts of experience in the workplace and different qualifications.

What can schools, and colleges and employers do to ensure that careers education and guidance works better to meet the needs of all young people?

Employers have a big role to play in this. Increasing current levels of engagement between schools and colleges and employers is vital if we are to improve the breadth and relevance of CEIAG and develop appropriate education – including vocational – routes to employment that will inspire our young people, equip them with the skills they need to meet the changing needs of industry and increase their likelihood of finding rewarding and fulfilling careers.

The role of employers is important at all levels:

  • working with schools and other education institutions to help staff and their students understand more about present-day working environments and the skills – such as problem solving and teamwork – that employers value
  • providing inspirational role models and broadening young people’s understanding of the range of careers available to them
  • providing practical advice and help with writing CVs and application forms, and with interview practice
  • providing opportunities for work experience, work placements and apprenticeships.
What more can NFER do to support young people in their choice of career path?

Over the years, NFER has carried out a lot of research into transitions from education to employment.  We’ve also provided practical tools and guidance to help schools, colleges and employers identify the best ways of engaging young people in their own education before they leave school and to support successful routes into employment.

But I’m far from complacent about what more needs to be done and this will be an area of work on which NFER will continue to focus. It is simply too important to the future of our young people and this country not to do so.

As an employer, NFER offers career paths, apprenticeships and a graduate entry scheme. These all provide opportunities to learn about different aspects of the research process, from developing a research specification and analysis plan, through to engaging schools and collecting data, analysing the results and drawing out implications for policy and practice. And, importantly, how to engage key decision makers in education with the findings from our research.

Why is there a need for a National Careers Week?

Initiatives such as National Careers Week can help provide additional impetus to build an understanding of what good CEAIG in schools looks like, how it can be achieved and maintained, and how information about alternatives can be shared in an accessible and informative manner. It’s needed now more than ever.