Challenging the current policy around the delivery of careers services

I recently attended at meeting of the UK Careers Sector Strategic Forum. Predictably the talk was all of current government policy. One of the bits of rhetoric that is doing the rounds concerns the idea that the government are doing away with face to face career guidance for young people with the idea that they will replace it with web based delivery of career support. I don’t actually see any evidence that web/technology based services are going to get any additional resources, but as an enthusiast for web-based stuff I feel the need to speak up and urge a bit of caution.

My feeling is that a lot of different issues are getting tangled up in situation where the government is reshaping and downscaling career support for young people. My suggestion is that we try and seperate out these different strands when we discuss them.

I see the three strands as being comprised of

  • Resourcing
  • Structures
  • Delivery

I’ll just briefly say something on each to see if it helps.

Resourcing is what the current challenge to the careers service is all about. Essentially the government are taking out most of the money that has been used to support careers work in the UK. What is more the majority of what is being removed is being taken from young people. While it is easy for the government to talk about “more for less” and the “big society” picking up the slack in the real world if you cease to fund something altogether the most likely outcome is that it disappears. This is the most important ground to debate the government on as the other two flow from this.

Structures describes the way in which the careers service is organised. Will it be divided into youth and adult as currently, will the delivery contracts be tendered out in national, regional or local ways, how will funding be allocated (per interview, for progression to a job, etc etc). There isn’t any clarity around this although I suspect that there isn’t likely to be much change from the current situation. Personally I’d like to see the structure based on a nationally managed core service with a market of private and third sector providers bidding into an enhancement and innovation pot for smaller, but still meaningful chunks of money. However all structures are dependent on resourcing and so if we have hardly any resource the structure becomes much less important.

Delivery describes what the service actually looks like to the end user. Is it a website? is it a one-to-one interview? is it delivered in schools? by schools? does it use a psychodynamic model or a CBT approach etc ?  My feeling is that government should keep out of this as much as possible and leave it to practitioners and service users to develop what the service actually looks like. Otherwise you get into a situation where people in Westminster are sitting around theorising about and regulating the colour of the walls in a Connexions office in Newcastle. However, it is not as though government has no impact on delivery, given that delivery is highly dependent on resourcing and structures. If you set up a structure that pays people by the number of interviews, you are going to get a lot of interviews. On the other hand if you don’t pay people at all then you are going to get a lot of nothing.

My point in all of this is that resourcing is where we should be making our arguments. If we conclude that the resourcing is now a done deal we should now be focusing on structures. We shouldn’t (if we can avoid it) be squabbling about what the best mode of delivery is in front of the government. If we get the structures right we should be able to trust practitioner expertise, market forces and maybe a bit of old fashioned democracy to sort out exactly how the service gets delivered.



One comment

  1. Very helpful analysis!I think government will go for the web and telephone based careers guidance model too. It’s by far the least expensive approach – you save on office costs, you can use a higher proportion of unqualified call-takers to professional staff and so on. It’s also a far more accessible service for users – available literally 7 days a week.The main weakness of the approach is that it’s reactive and relies on there being informed "customers". Many teenagers and their parents have little knowledge of what good education and careers advice can do for them – they certainly don’t know how they can access it. In circumstances like these, it’s helpful for the schools to take the initiative and regularly invite in Connexions staff. The way things are going, this may not be possible in the future.We provide excellent careers advice too but there is no way private-sector organisations like ourselves can take on the high volume workload undertaken by the state-funded careers service.

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