It is now a few days after Rishi Sunak’s summer statement. I offered some initial thoughts straight away, but I wanted to let it all settle in for a few days before I posted specifically about the career guidance commitment.
On the face of it, there is a lot to be pleased about. We’ve been asking for £26 million in emergency funding for career guidance. Although Sunak’s offer is actually only £16 million a year, it is still a big step forwards. It seems like all of the campaigning, both inside the National Careers Service and from the 800+ troublemakers on the outside, has actually paid off.
But, I’m a bit worried that government and the media don’t really understand the difference between the National Careers Service Advisers and the Jobcentre Plus Work Coaches. I’m also not sure that people have grasped that none of the money is going to support young people who are currently in education.
But, before we start looking this particular gift horse in the mouth, lets be clear what it is that has been funded.
What is the new money for?
The £32 million is to increase the capacity of the National Careers Service for two years. It isn’t supposed to drive any big shifts or changes in the way that the Service operates, rather it is just supposed to increase the number of people who can be seen.
As Sunak himself says ‘the evidence says careers advice works, so we’ll fund it’.
This acknowledgement is in itself a very positive step forwards. But concretely, it recognises the value of the National Careers Service and provides it with the funding that it is likely to need to continue to work with its customers and priority groups as the labour market becomes more precarious and the number of unemployed people grows. While the exact priority groups might change a bit, they are unlikely to radically shift from those set out in the current funding rules.
To be an Eligible Customer, at the point of interaction with a Prime Contractor a Customer must be: aged 19 or older or aged 18 and not in education, employment or training; and living or working in England.
The Priority Groups for the National Careers Service are as follows: 18-24 year olds not in education, employment or training (NEETs); low-skilled adults without a level 2 qualification; adults who have been unemployed for more than 12 months; single parents with at least one dependent child living in the same household; adults with special educational needs and/or disabilities; and
adults aged 50 years and over who are unemployed or at demonstrable risk of unemployment.
In other words, the National Careers Service is focused on adults (including young adults outside of education) who are low skilled, long-term unemployed and otherwise disadvantaged. These are important groups to provide career support to. There is also a good reason to believe both that the size of these groups will grow and that the proportion of these groups who seek career support will grow as well.
In the light of this, the provision of additional funding seems wise and appropriate. There is good reason to believe that it might help these groups to manage difficult periods of redundancy and un- and under-employment, to make good choices about appropriate training and retraining and find their way into decent work. However, there are also other groups who this funding will not fully serve, and so it is important to think about what else is needed.
What might the next round of funding be for?
Sunak’s Plan for Jobs is a good start, but that is all it is. Once we get to the autumn it will be becoming increasingly clear how bad the recession is going to get. Recent forecasts are estimating a fall in UK GDP of around 10%. That kind of economic contraction is unlikely to be consequence free in terms of the labour market. Nor is the economy likely to rebound quickly. By the time he gives his autumn budget Sunak will have a better idea of the extent of the problem and is likely to announce more employment support and stimulus measures.
Career guidance can only be a small part of such a package. But, nonetheless it is an important part, because it is focused on ensuring that individuals are able to find their way around the rapidly changing education, employment and welfare system that the government will be frantically tweaking to try and avoid mass unemployment.
So, what would I like to see included in Rishi’s autumn package?
- Schools and colleges. The current funding does nothing for young people in education. There has been good progress over recent years in moving career guidance in schools and colleges forwards. But, the position of careers work in schools and colleges will be seriously threatened by institutions hunkering down to deliver exam results in the wake of the missing months of lockdown. They need to be given additional funding to free up careers leaders and provide enough personal guidance to meet the levels defined by the Gatsby Benchmarks. If the government were going to look seriously at careers work in schools they should also increase funding for careers hubs, brokerage with employers and create/recreate a new statutory duty for careers education.
- Graduates and high skilled workers. Low paid and low skilled people typically bare the brunt of recessions. But, this doesn’t mean that graduates and higher skilled workers don’t also need support. The economic returns of ensuring that high skilled individuals are in appropriate work that makes use of their skills and capabilities is potentially much greater than with lower skilled people. There is a need to provide further funding to extend access to career support to this group and ensure that suitable careers professionals are available to deliver it.
- Kickstarter guidance. One of the big pledges of the summer statement was the creation of the Kickstart wage subsidy programme. This kind of work creation will potentially throw unemployed young people a lifeline, but it will only have a positive impact if these placements turn into either permanent jobs or a legup to a new career. The provision of guidance interviewers at the start and end of each of these opportunities would help young people to find their way to meaningful opportunities and then make the most of those opportunities to propel their careers onwards.
- NEET support. The career guidance offered by the National Careers Service is invaluable for young people who are not in education, employment and training (NEET). However, there is a need for broader, more intensive support that is strongly plugged into wider local authority NEET support provision. As the NEET cohort grows, this is likely to become a higher priority.
- Professionalisation. Career guidance is a professional activity, yet it is not always done by professionals. England has managed to establish a defacto professional minimum standard (level 6 to be fully qualified), but this has very limited legal status and no funding and support. It would be good if a future funding package and reform could make professional qualification compulsory for careers professionals working in the National Careers Service and in schools. It would also be good if this could be supported with some funding for the professional body and a number of government training bursaries every year.
There are also some important questions to ask about the way that the system is organised going forwards.
- IT infrastructure. The Plan for Jobs includes a promise to ‘utilise private sector capacity to deliver a new online, one-to-one job finding support service’. If someone can tell me what that means or what it is referring to I will be very pleased! However, if you are spending money on IT infrastructure then further investment in LMI for All might be a good place to start.
- Funding model. The National Careers Service continues to be delivered through a payment by results model. Is there a case for moving away from this for at least some activities which are focused on longer term unemployed people and those with more serious barriers? The payment by results system inevitably creates a market logic which focuses activities on those who it is easier to get results for. It may be that it is time for a change.
- Coherence of the system. A lot of the problems of the current system are created by artificial divisions between DfE, DWP and local authorities as well as between adult and youth focused services. There is a need for a serious review of the operation of career support services in the country. A period in which new investment is going into these services is a good time to think about how this money could be made to work more effectively. So how could the system be reviewed and reworked?
So, that’s some of my thoughts on the new funding. It is good, but there is more to do.
I’d be interested to hear more from others about what things you would like to see future investment in and what questions we should be asking of government about the current system.
Please let me have your thoughts in the comments below or by contacting me direct.