Careers advice for young people: when are we going to grasp the nettle?

It is hard to sit back and say nothing when you see articles about careers advice for young people. For starters I’m a parent. And in the next 12 months my eldest daughter will be making choices that could well shape a big chunk of the rest of her life. Which, given we will all be working a lot longer, means 50 maybe even 60 years.

As my wife commented sagely only a few days ago: life is so much more complicated now. In our day the majority of young people left school and went straight into work. If you were prepared to work hard the opportunities were there in the heady days of the 80’s. You didn’t need a degree. Neither Mrs G nor I went to university but we both “got on”.

I’d like to help my daughter make the right choices. Ones that are about her abilities, aspirations and dreams. Not mine. We all want great things for our children but how well placed is the average parent to support their child? If nothing else we are biased. In my own case I know (with the benefit of hindsight no doubt) that I chose the wrong A levels. I spent two years studying things that I thought would make my parents proud. Not what really interested or motivated me. Which is why, I am sure, my results were underwhelming.

As CEO of a business that is a recognised expert in careers advice for adults, I have a strong professional interest too. Our latest statistics show just how good we are at helping people get the career outcomes they want.

And there’s the rub. If there’s so much great careers expertise out there why is the advice in schools constantly criticised? Like most problems I suspect there are multiple causes including:-

1)    Great career advice doesn’t come cheap. However neither is it hideously expensive in the context of how it shapes the lives of young people. Quite simply our education system doesn’t put enough resources into it. And that runs all the way up to graduates. Youth unemployment is the big issue that isn’t going away despite the general improvement in the economy.

2)    To be a great career advisor/coach you need to be immersed in the world of work. How many teachers have spent time in industry or commerce and know what it is really like? Perhaps all teachers should have to spend a minimum of six months in industry every so many years to keep them grounded?

3)    Do we rate schools and Universities for the right things? Should, for example, their rankings be based on a broader base than academic results? If they were ranked by the average earnings of their former pupils five or ten years after they leave would that change how they behave? Or how about the unemployment rate of their students 5 years’ after leaving?

4)    Education and industry pull in different directions. How different would the world be if University funding were determined by employer’s views of their ability to turn out the talent they require? It might spell the end for all those weird and wonderful courses that get higher education a bad name. And prevent young people building up big debts to get degrees with poor employment prospects.

On the final point, I stumbled on an article recently (based on HESA statistics) that listed the UK degrees with the highest post-graduate unemployment rates. The absolute worst is apparently Geography with one website reporting that only 36% of new graduates were employed six months after leaving University. French is also in the top 10. So should I advise my daughter to give both subjects a wide berth at GCSE?

More worryingly still though is this startling fact. In this month’s ICAEW (Chartered Accountants) journal there is an article about how accountancy firms are struggling to find good graduates to hire. And what’s in the list of the top 10 degree courses most likely to leave you without a job? Yes, you’ve guessed it, Accountancy. Evidence, if you ever needed it, that Universities don’t produce the graduates with the skills business wants.

Come on Department of Education – grasp the nettle. Let’s sort out a properly funded and resourced careers service for young people. And while you are at it start talking to your colleagues at the Department of Business, Innovation and Skills. Its time you joined up education funding with commercial reality.

Ian Gooden
Chief Executive

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