I have just published an article on The Conversation website. This site promises “academic rigour, journalistic flair” and works by pairing academics with good journalistic editors. It was an interesting process and hopefully offers another way for me to talk about the research that we have done for the Sutton Trust.

So here is the article.

Inspire children with good careers advice and they do better at school

We ask young people to make a lot of life-changing decisions. At 13 or 14 you choose GCSE subjects. Make the wrong choice and you could be ruling out your chance to pursue medicine or a number of other science and technology occupations. At 16, young people make choices about the area that they want to specialise in and whether they want to pursue vocational or academic tracks. At 18, there are still more decisions about whether to go to university or not and again what to focus on.

Read more on The Conversation



Today marks the release of a new report that I’ve been working on for a while with the Sutton Trust.

Hooley, T., Matheson, J. & Watts, A.G. (2014). Advancing Ambitions: The role of career guidance in supporting social mobility. London: Sutton Trust.

The report traces recent government policy, arguing that the combination of cuts and poor regulation have seen a decline in the quantity and quality of career guidance in England. It also argues that one of the government’s main failings in implementing these policies has been the failure to monitor the impact of this experiment.

We then go on to try and identify what some of the impacts of career guidance are using data from over 800 schools and sixth form colleges which hold career quality marks and comparing this with other schools which do not hold these quality marks. We find  that there are a number of interesting correlations. So controlling for other factors, we found that schools with the awards had a two percentage point advantage in the proportion of pupils with five good GCSEs, including English and Maths. There was also a small, but significant, reduction in persistent absences (of 0.5%).

In the sixth form, we found that the proportion of students gaining 3 A levels was 1.5% higher in schools and sixth form colleges with the quality awards than other schools, and students also had higher UCAS scores, though the gains were not repeated in general further education colleges. Sixth form colleges with accredited career guidance showed a significant increase in the number of students going to leading universities.

The report then goes on to explore the factors that constitute quality career guidance. It notes the importance of a strong infrastructure to support career guidance, the existence of progressive education programmes, the importance of involving key stakeholders like employers and post-secondary learning providers and the need for a strong focus on the individual in the delivery of careers provisions (e.g. through one-to-one career guidance).

I think that this report is probably the summation of a lot of the work that we have done over the last four years which has explored the Coalition Government’s policies on career guidance. The use of quantitative methods means that we are able to say a bit more about the impacts of having good quality career guidance.

I’d be interested to hear more about what people think about the report once you’ve had a chance to read it.

Last week I posted some interviews that Julia Yates conducted with me on online career learning and social media.

She has also interviewed a whole load of interesting people (as well as me). The films are well worth watching and include interviews with some of the stars of British career development.

Julia gets everyone talking about career theory, career management, career development and employability.

Well worth a watch!


Yesterday I attended a very interesting RSA discussion on new technologies and social mobility. I encountered a lot of interesting new ideas about the relationship between new technologies, social mobility online learning and online career building. This included some stuff about whether new technologies lower the threshold for entrepreneurialism and self-employment that I really need to give some more thought to. We also went over some familiar ground about whether we are living with a generation of digital natives (I say NO), whether MOOCs are just hype (I say YES) and whether there is a technofix to social and political problems (NO, NO and THRICE NO). Anyway in the aftermath I thought that it might be useful for me to set down a few of my ideas on this subject.

I think that the first point that I would want to make is that the provision of career support is an important part of the social mobility toolkit. Next week we will be releasing some research for the Sutton Trust which will argue that there is a strong alignment between the policy goal of social mobility and career guidance. In essence social mobility is about individual’s abilities to successfully pursue their careers and career guidance is about providing them with support to do this. Career guidance is both an individual and a social good: it helps individuals to progress in their learning and work, but it also helps the effective functioning of the labour and learning markets and contributes to a range of social policy goals.

We argue that career guidance can support social mobility in the following ways.

  • Provide access to information and intelligence about the labour and learning markets in ways that transcend existing social networks.
  • Demystify labour and learning market systems and support individuals to understand progression pathways and manage transition processes such as university or apprenticeship applications, the creation of CVs and recruitment interviews.
  • Engage with individuals’ assumptions about themselves and the world around them, informing and challenging them.
  • Listen to individuals’ aspirations and help them to operationalise these as well as considering alternatives.
  • Build the skills that people need to make decisions and transitions and to progress in their career (career management skills).
  • Broker access to networks beyond the ones that individuals normally have access to.
  • Provide mentoring and support to encourage persistence and remaining resilient in the face of setbacks.

Given this it is likely that an element of career support should be part of any strategy around social mobility. However, as readers of this blog will know, the government has substantially reduced funding for career guidance for young people which in turn has led to a considerable decline in the quality of provision in schools and colleges. There was originally some discussion that this decline in the amount of face-to-face service provision would be addressed through an increase in the provision of online support. However, so far government funding for online career support has been extremely limited and it has not seriously engaged with the offer that exists in the private sector to consider how this could best be harnessed (see my post from 2011 called the Government don’t love careers websites either).

In Careering Through the Web we argued that it was possible for online technologies should be seen as an important part of career support. We noted that they could play three roles in the provision of career support:

  1. The provision of information and resources
  2. The provision of automated interactions which used artificial intelligence to do some of the jobs that were previously done by careers advisers
  3. The provision of tools for communication which could facilitate communication with careers advisers, employers, peers and wider kinds of personal and professional networks.

Four years later the range of practice that exists in relation to each of these three categories has grown. However there has been little attempt by government or any other stakeholders to map this milieu or to consider what role government could play in relation to this.

In Enhancing Choice we argued that government should not seek to create a single careers website or web solution, but should rather oversee the development of the market in online career support. In essence this would involve three main roles:

  1. Stimulating the market by encouraging the development of new services and new types of resources.
  2. Quality assuring the market to increase citizen confidence in the career support that they can access online.
  3. Compensating for market failure by resourcing services that address key policy concerns (such as social mobility) but which the market is unlikely to meet on its own.

It is hoped that this offers a framework within which public policy actions in this area could be located.

However, it is also important to recognise that individual’s engagement with online career support is dependent on the skills that they have to utilise the internet. It would be possible to engage in an extended academic debate about whether these are new “digital skills” or whether they are often just the same old career management and employability skills resituated in a new context. For what it is worth I tend to come down on the latter, but in a sense it doesn’t matter, if individuals are going to make the most of the online context they will need to learn how to do this. Despite the fanfare of the approach of the digital native there is no evidence that suggests that young people find it easier than any of the rest of us to think about how best to use the internet for learning, work and building a career. This stuff needs to be learnt, it may be learnt by trial and error, but it still needs to be learnt.

I have developed the 7 Cs of digital career literacy (set out in How the internet changed career and Building online employability). These 7 skills are designed to offer a framework for action for educators who want to support people to develop their ability to use the online environment for career building. However, while such interventions have the potential to support social mobility, this will only be the case if they are available to people from all backgrounds and across the attainment spectrum. If it is going to support social mobility, it is important that those from lower socio-economic backgrounds have access to at least as much career support as those from higher socio-economic backgrounds and that there is a concerted effort to support everyone to develop the skills that they need to pursue their careers online.

Yesterday I posted a video of Julia Yates interviewing me about online career learning. As if watching 15 minutes of me talking wasn’t bad enough, Julia then unearthed another nine minutes from the same session of me talking about social media and career learning.

It goes a bit like this…

A while ago Julia Yates interviewed me in a noisy cafe somewhere in London about online career learning.

This is the sort of thing that I had to say for myself.

In early November we will be hosting the final lecture to be delivered by Tony Watts. As I will undoubtedly say on the day, Tony needs no introduction as he has been a leading figure in developing theory, policy and practice relating to careers guidance in all sectors for 50 years.

In this his final lecture he will review some of the key changes that have taken place in his fifty-year career in the career development field, and will offer some suggestions for the future.

Tony was also a central figure in the establishment and development of iCeGS. In 1998, he presented the first iCeGS Annual Lecture ‘Reshaping Career Development for the 21st Century‘ and it is fitting tribute to Tony’s commitment to the Centre that he has chosen the University to host his final lecture.

The lecture entitled ‘Career Development: Looking Back; Moving Forward’ will be the Seventeenth iCeGS Annual Lecture and will take place on Thursday 6 November 2014 at the University of Derby, Kedleston Road, Derby.

Registration for the event will start at 2.00pm. The lecture will start with introductions from the Vice Chancellor at 2.30pm, followed by Professor Tony Watts’s lecture until approximately 4.00pm. We will then conclude with a drinks reception.

Further information about this event will be published shortly.

To book a place, complete the attached booking form.

This event is free, but places will be limited.

paul chubb

In this guest post Paul Chubb, a CEG professional with 40 years’ experience (Twitter Account: @PACBoundary), offers his personal reflections (He is keen to stress that these views are only his, but I’d be interested to hear who else agrees with them)….

How often is history not just forgotten or ignored, but actually rewritten? Well, in looking at national policy for CEG it is clear that history has been rewritten by the current Coalition Government. Whether by negligence or wilful intent I am not sure. Let me explain (including looking at different Administrations’ approaches to CEG since 1974[1]).

During the past four years a succession of Ministers, mostly within the DfE but also in DBIS (I know they call it BIS, as they think it sounds ‘hip’, but it is a Department of HMG and thus should be DBIS), have claimed that “there has never been a golden age for careers guidance”. They may well be right, but my memory includes living and working in the time when HMG almost got it right; and I speak of the period between 1994-98. I guess that none of the current crop of Ministers knows anything about that period, nor do their Departmental civil servants. For sure there is no collective memory in the civil service – witness the number of times over the years when, after diligently helping an official to gain a good understanding of CEG, before long he or she was whisked off to another job or department, and we had to start again.

It was in the early 1990s that John Major’s Government continued the Thatcher era’s privatisation of public services. Whatever the rights and wrongs of privatisation (a debate for another time and place), my experience is that ‘privatising’ the former LEA careers service in 1994 turned out to be the closest we got to a ‘golden era’. Why do I say this?

Well let’s look at the historical facts. This is what we had:

  • A national, robust specification of the services to be provided under contract,
  • Mandatory quality standards required of the organisational providers,
  • Mandatory professional standards required of ‘careers advisers’ required to deliver the services, and
  • Pretty decent levels of funding.

Add to this the contractual requirement in each of the 67 careers service contract areas in England for the provider to demonstrate:

  • Appropriate localisation of services,
  • Strong local contact with and involvement of employers (both by the service becoming knowledgeable about local labour markets, as well as leading employers being directly involved in the strategic and corporate governance of many of the contractors),

The contract included, importantly, ring-fenced (hypothecated) budgets for aspects of the contractual duty – amongst which were dedicated funds to enhance the quality of CEG in schools themselves. It was this latter fund which led so many of the careers service contractors (many of them partnerships between LAs and Training & Enterprise Councils, as well as some commercial providers) to develop and establish the CEIAG Quality Awards, which became development tools as much as sources of accreditation for good work. Ministers saw that the better schools were preparing young people for future career decisions, but not all, and so recognising the need to require all schools to have a careers education programme in place, they legislated for it (1997), and supported CEG developments with this dedicated funding stream via the contracted careers service providers.

What went wrong then? Well, not everything was rosy in the contract specification and requirements placed upon providers. It seems that no government can resist interfering with professional practice (why are professionals not trusted to know what is right?). And the then Tory administration began to impose what we all saw as plain daft numerical targets for ‘careers action plans’ for pupils and students (too often focussing upon process not impact and outcomes). This forced professional practice too often to see careers advisers ‘action-planning’ every student they saw in order to meet targets, rather than doing what their professional ethics told them was best for their clients. Of course we balked at this aspect of the contract, but Ministers knew best……..

Then the 1997 Labour landslide swept Major out of office, and it wasn’t long before the warning signs appeared of a different kind of interference with the professional practice of the careers service by the new set of Ministers. Labour began by ‘refocussing’ the service on to young people they deemed most in need.

We tried to reason that the principle of a universal public service was right for the careers service. Academic ability has rarely equated automatically with sound and effective career planning skills (witness the tragic numbers of young people dropping out of higher education through ill-judged decisions and choices). But these Ministers also knew best; they wouldn’t listen either. So we found ourselves in the ludicrous position of many rudderless young people, with a few good GCSEs and above, being deemed by Ministers as “non-priorities” and too often denied access to professional careers advisers to help them consider and explore their options.

Next came the rise of the Social Exclusion Unit in the late 1990s, with the disparaging of ‘careers advice and guidance’, and the flawed national design of what became Connexions focussing too much on targeted services rather than universal career preparation (the former ‘instead of’, rather than ‘as well as’). Sadly, Connexions promised so much to so many, yet its national architects failed to understand the link between labour market intelligence and successful transition support services for young people. Hence, in too many parts of England, the Connexions Service, which succeeded the careers service, regrettably neglected or marginalised professional careers guidance. The national specification and requirements of Connexions providers reduced or removed so many of the better features of the 1994/98 era which addressed careers provision. Sadly the dedicated funding for CEG quality developments in schools did not survive for long after the 1997 Election, the intervention of the SEU and the creation of Connexions.

Ultimately Connexions became unloved by Labour’s own Ministers, as if they had played no part in undermining its ability universally to deliver professional careers services as well as its targeted support services. Labour rewrote its own history, blaming Connexions when it was their design (and their anti-careers guidance prejudices) which had undermined the ability of Connexions consistently to deliver. In 2009 Alan Milburn MP finally produced a report for Ed Balls (then Secretary of State for what had become DCSF) which effectively put the first nails in the Connexions coffin. Milburn criticised Connexions as being ‘patchy’ and as having neglected supporting social mobility.

Had Labour won the 2010 General Election then Connexions, and the LAs now back running it, would have had 12/24 months to turn things around for the better. To its credit DCSF set up a Careers Profession Task Force charged with producing recommendations to reinvigorate the profession and reposition it to become successful and make a positive impact everywhere in England.

Excellently led by Dame Ruth Silver, the CPTF produced a series of recommendations to do just that. However, May 2010 saw Labour ousted – so it was to the new Coalition Government that the CPTF reported in the summer of 2010. All of its recommendations were, on the face of it, accepted by the new Ministers (Nick Gibb and John Hayes). But the former demonstrated a complete lack of appreciation of the value of CEG, only surpassed by his Secretary of State (Michael Gove). John Hayes on the other hand “got it” entirely.

Hayes knew the power of labour market informed professional CEG to empower and enable young people (and adults) to take control of their learning and work careers. He wanted to establish a world-class specialist all-age careers service for England – pledging to do so at the Belfast Conference of the Institute of Careers Guidance in November 2010. But he was betrayed by Mr Gove, who removed the funding for the young person’s careers service, leaving Hayes effectively with only the Next Step budget of DBIS with which to establish his National Careers Service. Eventually he was also to lose his Skills Minister job – such a waste. {John Hayes actually helped us to implement one of the CPTF’s recommendations I know so well – creating the Quality in Careers Standard as national validation for the surviving 12 CEIAG Quality Awards – which could be a crucial part of the solution going forward, as a potential power for good if recommended to all schools or made a requirement by HMG.}

Mr Gove had more plans effectively to demolish the young person’s careers service. His Education Act 2011 placed the statutory duty to ‘secure access to independent careers guidance’ on schools themselves, bringing about the closure of Connexions as a national service locally delivered. Ignoring international evidence which far from supported his new policy, and blaming Connexions (as Milburn had done) for being ‘patchy’, Mr Gove replaced the decision of 152 Local Authorities of what should be provided with the decision now of every School (circa 4000 Head Teachers/Governing Bodies). Making matters worse, he placed the duty on them with no funding at all, and precious few guidelines on what was expected. It’s small wonder that the Ofsted Thematic Survey of 2013 reported on such poor levels of accessible provision in three-quarters of schools.

The Coalition Government’s response to Ofsted, and to a highly critical House of Commons Education Select Committee 2013 report on this policy, was to fashion in the spring of 2014 an ‘inspiration agenda’ – effectively telling schools that it’s not professional careers advisers and careers educators they need, but employers to come into schools and inspire young people to choose careers they speak about. No-one is saying that engaging employers in CEG is anything other than a good thing; but as a part of – i.e. as well as, not instead of – professional CEG provision.

I do wish we could look back, and learn from, what we did in the mid-1990s – when there was a robustly quality-assured and contract-managed universal careers service in every part of England; and when that careers service had dedicated funds to help schools to enhance the quality of their CEG.

So there we have it. As we approach the May 2015 General Election, my hope is that the positive lessons from 1994-98 might be revisited, and a 2015 version of that ‘nigh on golden age’ could be created in the context of the current statutory framework – including establishing enhanced accountability within a framework of required quality assurance measures. That way, I believe we could move on from this failing current policy, and instead build world-class careers provision to enable and empower all young people to gain the skills, knowledge and confidence to become ‘rainbow builders’[2] taking control of their learning and work career pathways bringing them personal, and the nation, increased economic success.

“You may say I’m a dreamer, but I’m not the only one……”


[1] The 1973 Employment & Training Act placed a statutory duty upon all Local Education Authorities for the first time to provide a careers service for young people. That Act was amended in 1993 by the Trade Union Reform & Employment Rights Act when the Secretary of State took the duty away from LEAs and placed it upon himself. This led to the ‘privatisation’ and contracting out of the service; and was quickly followed by the Education Act of 1997 placing a duty upon schools to provide a careers education programme. The Learning & Skills Act of 2000 and the Education & Skills Act of 2008 also affected the careers service duty and the creation of Connexions. Importantly Sections 8-10 of the 1973 Act remain in force; the Secretary of State discharges his duty currently through the requirements placed by him upon schools under the Education Act 2011. That 2011 Act also removed the statutory duty for schools to have a careers education programme in place. This personal paper reviews how these Acts have been implemented, and sets out why and when I think we came close to a ‘golden age’.

[2] I use the concept of ‘rainbow builders’ regularly in my professional speaking (courtesy of Dr. Barrie Hopson’s ‘Build Your Own Rainbow’ career management manual). Please see www.boundarypartnership.co.uk

A talk that I gave in Sheffield today about researchers and social media.

Entering the Matrix or changing the world for the better

Humans need not apply by @cgpgrey

Posted: September 17, 2014 in Uncategorized

Tristram Hooley:

Thanks to the SecondaryCEIAG blog for posting this piece about how robots are taking over the labour market (and the world).
There is lots to get your teeth into here. I don’t agree with it all, but it is certainly clear that new technologies are going to transform the labour market and careers dramatically.
Obviously to those of us raised on SF like Terminator this is a little worrying.
The key questions are essentially who will the robots replace and who benefits from this redistribution of work. If the rich own the robots while the rest of us get pushed out of work and into low paid or no work then we are storing up a major social problem. If however they offer us more leisure and better life/work balance we have a different set of issues that need to be worked through in the labour market and ultimately in career guidance.
Does this compute?

Originally posted on SecondaryCEIAG:

Simply found this video too fascinating not to post it. “Humans need not apply” is a 15 minute insight into a labour market that might seem futuristic but is all too close to our doorstep. A labour market overwhelmed by automation and the bots that perform these tasks. Bots who have become so rapid in their rate of learning and adaptation, so complex in their ability to out perform humans in such a diverse range of tasks at such cost-effective rates that it’s probable that huge swathes of the labour market will succumb to their usage. Equally frightening and intriguing, the near future depicted in this video demands huge answers from economic and business leaders and the education system preparing those competing human workers of tomorrow.

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