Good Advice Proves Hard to Find

  THIS month has seen a record breaking jump in British employment figures – great news for the thousands of school leavers who are now out job hunting.

Despite this good news, two out of five young people feel that the careers advice they received in school or college was poor, and 7% say they had no guidance at all.


More than half of those questioned by the Industry Apprentice Council (IAC)* said they used their own initiative to find out information, or were prompted by parents or friends.

There are more than 300,000 households with children in London where nobody works (sometimes going back two or three generations), meaning many young people may struggle to find the career guidance they need at home.  And worryingly, over a third of secondary school pupils said they used television programmes to help them decide what jobs they might like to do after leaving school.

Figures would back this up:  Call the Midwife has inspired interest in midwifery, CSI: Miami has increased study in forensic science, and the “Brian Cox” effect has seen an upturn in physics, with the number of applications to study engineering at university up year on year.  But seeing a career portrayed on TV doesn’t help you find out how to actually get that job. And although you might like the idea of being a police detective, you still might not know what skills you will need or which A-levels to take to end up in that role.   And while television can inspire and inform, it doesn't always reflect the opportunities available in the real world.

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If you leave school with no idea about the kinds of careers available to you, it is easy to rule out hundreds of job options because you don’t know anything about them.   Girls in particular seem destined to end up in certain sectors of work, with 75% of women working in the five C careers – Caring, Catering, Cashiering, Cleaning and Clerical - stereotypical female roles.  Some people argue that careers advice needs to be targeted to encourage more young women into engineering and STEM—science, technology, engineering and maths—subjects.

Schools have a legal duty to provide impartial careers advice, and since 2011 when the new Coalition Government was formed, they have been directly responsible for providing this advice themselves.  Before that, the responsibility lay with local councils and was primarily delivered through a service called Connexions.  Now each school has £18,000 to spend on its own career’s advice – so has it got better since this change?

In December new Government guidelines were published to give schools guidance on careers education, and whereas before careers education was just for pupils in school years 9 to 11, it is now extended to years 8-13 – meaning more guidance is available, from a younger age.  That definitely seems like a good thing.  Also, now Ofsted will be formally inspecting and grading schools careers services, rather than just ‘taking them into account’ as they did before.  Sir Michael Wilshaw, Head of Ofsted said:  “The quality and availability of careers advice has a huge impact on the choices young people make about their futures, so it can’t afford to be anything less than excellent.”

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And yet, despite the majority of teachers thinking high-quality independent careers guidance at school is important, only a third of them were confident their school was actually providing it. Skills and Enterprise Minister Matthew Hancock said: "Careers advice has long been not good enough, so we are strengthening the duty on schools to inspire, motivate, and mentor young people to fulfil their potential.”  Only time will tell if this aim is achieved.  But what can you do in the meantime to make sure you get the help you need?

It’s important to make the most of the career’s guidance available at your school, but you will need to do your own research too.  Go to the library, look online and don’t be afraid to ask other people’s advice.  Teachers can always point you in the right direction and may be able to organise a talk or presentation from someone who is successful in the field you are interested in.  Or if you know someone at school whose mum is a doctor, or whose dad is an illustrator and that’s what you think you might want to do, ask if you can talk to them about how they got into their job.  Most people are only too happy to offer advice, and will feel proud to be asked.

If you need a little motivation to kick start your research, take a look at the video and websites below.  And  remember, we spend a third of our adult life at work, so it’s definitely worth taking the time now to choose a career you will love, and look forward to getting up for every morning.  Good luck!

Careers Advice Week – my interview with Olympic broadcast journalist @DekanApajee



The National Careers Service offers support to young people aged 13 - 18 via a website, helpline and web chat

Inspiring Futures offers young people career advice, career guidance and career services both in the UK and internationally

*An IAC survey of 600 students

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