2012 has been a funny old year. In the mainstream we’ve all been watching Homeland, oppaning it Gangnam style, watching Barack Obama getting elected for a second time and worrying about the fiscal cliff or as we call it in the UK – George Osborne. However, over the in the weird sub-culture that we call UK Guidance we have continued to live in interesting times.
For career guidance 2012 hasn’t been as dramatic a year as the previous two. In the main we have seen the policy changes that were enacted after the formation of the Coalition Government working through into practice. If you haven’t been watching carefully about exactly what these policy changes have been then you could do a lot worse than to read Tony Watts’ critique of Coalition policy on guidance. Suffice to say that through the congruence of conspiracy and cock up the current government have undermined 50 years of the development of career support for young people despite publically vowing to support it. On the other hand they have held the line on adult careers services.
So let’s start with the good news. 2012 saw the launch of the new National Careers Service.For some reason the launch was fronted by Lorraine Pascale (AKA the pretty baker). Who thought that this was a good idea I’m not sure but no harm done. I guess a bit of celebrity might just attract some attention to the service. This service promised to put new life into careers services for both young people and adults. However, scratching the surface revealed that it was pretty much the old Next Step service with a new lick of paint and the old Connexions direct phone service tacked on. Nonetheless the government are to be praised for keeping this in place when they could have cut it and it hopefully it will continue to get better. The Careers Sector Strategic Alliance have produced a new paper setting out some issues with the new service and some options for ways forwards.
Less convincingly 2012 has also seen ongoing developments in the area of welfare to work. We’ve written about this in papers about low-paid staff and unemployed people. However, despite the potential for career development to play an important role in this area the existing evidence from interventions like the Work Programme and the Youth Contract suggest that the government aren’t really succeeding to deal with this very effectively. Unemployment seems to be being held down, but it is essentially by increasing the number of bad jobs (part-time, insecure, poorly paid) that exist rather than by engaging people’s talents (see John Philpott’s blog from October on this subject). Personally I think that the government needs to try and pursue the high road here and start viewing welfare-to-work as welfare-to-career rather than welfare-to-wage-slavery. Increasing the career development component of welfare would be a useful step in the right direction.
Moving on to higher education, 2012 has been a pretty major year. The increase in tuition fees has reframed both the input and output of higher education. Conceptually higher education is now seen as a product which individuals can buy for their own gain and/or amusement. Any idea of higher education as a social good has largely been washed away. Personally I think that this is regrettable but it actually heightens the need for good career guidance even more. If we have to pay vast amounts of money for our education it is pretty important that we make good decisions about what courses actually contain, what courses are good/fun/interesting/challenging and what courses might lead to well paid or rewarding work. All of these are career choice issues and clearly need to be tackled at the point that people are making choices about what subject to study for GCSE (or whatever these morph into under Mr Gove), what choices they are making about A levels or alternatives, what course and university they are planning to go to and then what job they take up after their course.
There has been lots of activity around higher education due to these vast changes. The idea of widening participation hasn’t gone away and we’ve been working with HEFCE to try and help to think about what widening participation might look like in the future. We’ve produced a series of toolkits to set down some practical ideas about this. We’ve also been involved in thinking about more general transitions to higher education especially through our evaluation of the Unistats site.
Saving the worst until last we can now turn to the subject of careers work in schools. Unfortunately following the passage of the Education Act 2011 very little has been done by the government to save careers work in schools. Although there has been some Statutory Guidance and a strangely named Practical Guide published to try and clarify the responsibilities that schools now have. Again Tony Watts has helpfully produced critiques on both of these which explain their limitations more clearly than I could hope to (see the commentary on the Guidance and the Practical Guide).
At the moment it is not clear how all of these policy changes are really working through in practice. All of the evidence so far seems to suggest that there is a substantial decline in the delivery of careers work in schools. Careers England’s survey on this is a useful starting point but we could really do with some more systematic investigation to nail it down. My experience in Kent was that some schools were continuing to invest in careers work and seeing it as important to the ethos of the school, others were trying to comply with the Education Act but to a bare minimum, while still others were doing little or nothing. I believe that David Andrews has refered to
this as a “catchment area lottery” and I’d say that he is about right. Whether young people get access to career support while they are in school is not determined by their need or their aspiration but rather by decisions that are made first by their local authority and then by their school. My guess is that the decline in access to career support has been pretty rapid and is still ongoing – but as I say it is difficult to be sure at the moment. Our paper for the Pearson Think Tank sets out the direction we want it to go in the future – hopefully someone out there will be listening.
Away from direct delivery 2012 has also seen an important development in terms of the movement towards a single professional body for the careers sector. Emerging out of the Careers Profession Alliance we are gradually moving towards the creation of the Career Development Institute. Currently scheduled for launch March 2013 this will be a big step forward in the creation of a body that is capable of representing the field. However its creation has taken place in a period in which the employment level in the field (and thus the potential membership of the new body) has continued to decline. For my money, the new body has still not pitched its tent big enough and needs to try and broaden out to take in the full range of careers work (see my post on career development and widening participation for example).
So all in all what can we take from 2012? Well it seems to me that the case for career development as a key part of the education and employment system is at least as strong as ever. Key policy makers continue to extoll its virtues (see Michael Davis’ iCeGS lecture or my colleague Jo Hutchinson’s article about STEM careers for example) However the professional capacity and infrastructure for it to be delivered finishes 2012 weaker than it started the year. The trafic isn’t all one way – there are reasons to celebrate around the new professional body and the NCS – but it is important that we are realistic about what constitutes a set back and what necessitates a fight back. Hopefully 2013 will see the tide starting to flow back the other way.