10 criteria for success for the new careers company

Following the recent announcement by the Government about a new careers company I wrote a blog entitled A brand new careers company for England – hurrah!(?) Since then I’ve received a fair amount of correspondence and comments on the blog that have led me to believe that my hilarious use of irony was missed by some.

I want to make it clear that I am very glad that the Government has recognised that its policy on careers has been deeply flawed and has sought to address this. However, I don’t believe that the 20 million earmarked for this is sufficient. Nor do I believe that the decision to establish a new careers company makes any kind of sense at all. I can think of at least three better routes for channelling the money which would have been more effective (in order through the National Careers Service, the LEPs and through schools themselves). Nonetheless we are where we are and the spending of the 20 million is about to become an operational decision. Given this I think that it is important that we start to give some time to thinking about what this new careers company could actually achieve and how it should go about it.

As ever, we have to operate within the framework of a sub-optimal policy. But, as ever there is value in being pragmatic and trying to work out what we could reasonably achieve with this 20 million. To this end I’ve identified a series of 10 success criteria that those who are involved in running the new company might want to consider as it begins to take shape.

  1. Staying strategic. In England we lack a strategic body that is capable of speaking out for careers. While other home nations have strategic and unified bodies which are capable of participating in policy and connecting a wide range of stakeholders there is nothing equivalent in England. The new body could use its legitimacy to exercise considerable convening power, to speak out for the importance of careers and to work from the inside to influence the policy of the current and new governments.
  2. Understand the current state of practice. Another important aspect of a strategic approach is to understand the actual state of practice. There have been lots of reports that have helped with this (including the recent IER reportOfsted and various reports that we’ve done e.g. Advancing Ambitions and A Career Postcode Lottery) but, we don’t really know enough about which schools are delivering careers badly and why they aren’t prioritising it. It is important that the new company grapples with this early and comes up with strategies that are designed to address this.
  3. Minimising the amount of money that is lost to infrastructure costs. Although 20 million sounds like a lot, as Russell recently pointed out it won’t go very far to meeting the identified need. Add to this that 5 million of it has already been earmarked for an innovation fund (or is this additional to the 20 million?), we’ve only got 15 million to play with. If the new company spends too much time appointing branding strategists, opening local offices and so forth we could easily see that money flow down the plug ‘ole. My suggestion would be for the new company to work with the existing brands like the National Careers Service, the LEPs and the various third sector providers to deliver services rather than competing with them.
  4. Avoiding reinventing the wheel. Careers is not new. There are already lots of players in the field and a lot of services available. Before the leaders of the new company commission a new careers website (I know, I know, it will be Trip Advisor for careers, just like all the others!), generate new labour market information, or set up a new employers into schools programme, they should look carefully at what is there already. They should also look carefully as what has been there in the past and which seemed to work well. An important part of this is to listen to the profession and the existing providers. There is a lot of knowledge in the profession about how to do things well. Too often government seems to construct professionals as a vested interest who should be frozen out. Of course there are vested interests there, but the new company should get into the habit of listening first rather than ignoring the pre-existing knowledge.
  5. Building the capacity of schools. Careers initiatives seem to come and go at the moment. What endures regardless of the political climate is schools. So I think that those running the new company should seriously address the question “how can we get schools to engage with career more”. I think that the career education quality awards are an important part of this (as we argued in our recent research for the Sutton Trust). Another important part is about finding a way to engage teachers in careers work and to create an identifiable and respected “careers leader” within every school.
  6. Improving the evidence base. When the cuts came there was a lot of argument about the evidence base on which career education and guidance is based. Of course, Michael Gove repeatedly misused the available evidence . Nonetheless I would concede that there is work to do on clarifying the impacts that it is reasonable to expect from career education and guidance and how such impacts are best brought about. If a strong expectation for evaluation is placed alongside the initiatives that the company develops or funds it could contribute to our overall understanding of what works.
  7. Building an effective working relationship with the National Career Service. The new company has a remit that overlaps considerably with the National Careers Service. Managing this overlap presents a challenge for both organisations. In the long run it is important that the new company works synergistically with the National Careers Service , using the latter organisations local infrastructure to deliver on its aspirations for change.
  8. Keeping a lifelong perspective. It is important that the new company maintains a lifelong perspective on career development. Our recent review on the evidence base highlighted the importance of this lifelong perspective. The decision to divorce the new company from the National Careers Service runs the risk of entrenching the idea that careers is just something that you do at school rather than encouraging young people to commit to lifelong learning and lifelong career development.
  9. Making the argument for sustainability. At the moment this 20 million is essentially a one off pre-election bribe. If it is going to become more than that the new company will have to make the argument for some kind of sustainability. Given that I’ve said that 20 million isn’t enough, I think that this ultimately means that the company needs to be ready to go into the next spending round with clear arguments about what it has achieved and what more it could achieve with an extra 50 or 100 million. Of course thought should also be given as to how the private sector could be engaged in this, but ultimately state funding is likely to continue to be the main game in town. If this dries up the company will almost certainly wink out of existence.
  10. Remember that activity doesn’t equal impact. Nuff said?

‘If you look the part you’ll get the job’: should career professionals help clients to enhance their career image?

I’ve just published a new article in the British Journal of Guidance and Counselling with Julia Yates. The article talks about the role of careers advisers in advising on “career image”.

This article presents a critical exploration of the role of career professionals in supporting people to reflect on and enhance their appearance, attractiveness and self-presentation (career image). The article is conceptual and based on a review of the broader literature on career success, appearance and attractiveness. It explores the evidence for a relationship between attractiveness and career, and the authors propose a conceptual framework in which career image is comprised of three elements (interpersonal skills, aesthetic presentation and beauty). The paper examines a possible role for career professionals in relation to this and then critically examines this role and concludes with the proposition of a research agenda in this area.

The good people at Taylor and Francis have made 50 copies of the article available for free. So if you rush you should be able to download a copy today. Otherwise you’ll either have to pay or wait for a year or so until I put it on UDORA.

Ready! Steady! Go!

A brand new careers company for England – hurrah!(?)


Yesterday the DfE announced its new plans for careers. Amazingly I seem to have beaten Russell in producing some commentary on this – so I’ll revel in this once in a lifetime opportunity to set the blogospheres agenda on something.

So the back story is that we’ve known for a week or so that there was £20 million of new money for careers. What we didn’t know was what they were planning to spend this money on.

Yesterday Nicki Morgan announced that they were planning to establish a new careers and enterprise company for schools which will seek to “transform the provision of careers education and advice for young people and inspire them about the opportunities offered by the world of work.” This is all set out in a press release on gov.uk.

The new body will be chaired by the current Chair of Capgemini UK, Christine Hodgson. I’ve never come across Christine before so I’d be interested in any insights that anyone has. She has had an involvement with Business in the Community which is probably a good sign. On the other hand she clearly isn’t a careers expert, so it will be important for her to surround her self with some people who do know a bit about the sector and can help to avoid the reinventing of any wheels.

So high profile employer lead aside, what will this new company actually do. Cutting through the rhetoric in the press release I think that the key features are as follows.

  • It will be focused on young people 12-18.
  • Its core remit will be brokerage between employers and schools. However, it is unlikely that it will have the level of resourcing to actually be doing this activity across all of England’s schools. So presumably it will be about providing strategic leadership for education/employer engagement.
  • It will provide advice to schools and colleges about the selection of careers providers. Presumably this will mean something like the creation of a national register of providers, but this is not clear.
  • Drive the creation of an “employability passport”. Again what this really means is not clear, but it will probably end up as some kind of e-portfolio. I’m not against this, but… e-portfolios are notoriously difficult to implement and particularly difficult to get employer buy-in to.
  • Map current provision and spot cold spots. Given all of the stuff that I’ve written on the postcode lottery in careers, this can only be a good thing.
  • Provide feedback to government on how the careers/employability/employer engagement space is working.
  • It will run a £5 million investment fund (is this part of the £20 million? If so it means that the normal running costs for the company will actually only be £15 million, which means that there is even less to go round). What kinds of innovations this will fund are not clear.

Alongside this announcement there is also some stuff about improving the destination data. I don’t think that this is really anything new, nor does it really seem to be directly related to the new company.

OK. So this all sounds good right? A new strategic body led by a high profile, independent chair to improve careers provision in England.

Well, I’m going to go with optimism for now. I think that this is a good thing. However, a more pessimistic or critical person than I might make the following points.

  • The amount of money earmarked for this initiative is pretty small. Only 10% of what was lost when the much criticised Connexions was cut. If Government wasn’t happy with what could be done for £200 million it seems questionable whether all of the problems can be solved for £20 million.
  • The new body is fairly narrowly framed at the moment. Employer involvement is really important, but it isn’t everything. The new body will have to think about schools, teachers and careers professionals as well. Brokerage in and of itself won’t address the current failures in the system.
  • The decision to establish a new body rather than use either the National Careers Service, the LEPs or any number of third sector bodies in this space is an “interesting” one. My worry would be that a lot of the money is sucked into set up costs.
  • There is at present no commitment to fund this in an ongoing way. At present the £20 million is to get things going rather than a commitment to fund a new national service. Someone far more cynical that I might say that this looks a bit like a pre-election bribe. If no new money appears after the election then this body is unlikely to trouble the landscape for very long.

Personally I hate those moaning minnies who make the kinds of points above. Now is a time to rejoice! However, it is also a time to engage energetically and positively with the new company. There is a lot of detail still to be worked through and this detail could make the difference between something that is genuinely useful and another massive white elephant.

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An Autumn Statement dollar, dollar bill y’all

OK – so it looks like we’ve got £20 million to spend on careers provision in England. It is not much, but it is better than nothing. So what could we usefully spend it on. Has anyone got any ideas?
Thanks to @secondaryceiag for being the first to spot this.


Today was a good news day in CEIAG world. At the Autumn Statement to the House of Commons, George Osborne pulled a Careers rabbit out of the hat and promised a £20 million cash injection into Careers advice for young people.

added to the recent contract changes to the National Careers Service and the funding equivalence involved (5% of about £109.5m)

it is great to see this vital work with young people getting cash backing. It was certainly welcomed by the National Careers Council

NCC chairwoman Deirdre Hughes said: “It is great to see the government recognising that more needs to be…

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