The Skills for Jobs white paper: implications for career development

This article was originally posted on Luminate in January 2021. In it I look at the Department for Education’s white paper Skills for Jobs: Lifelong Learning for Opportunity and Growth  and ask what is has to say about careers and why has it got nothing to say about higher education?

The new skills white paper1 has received a lot of coverage in the education trade press as people have been trying to figure whether it really represents a new vision for education or indeed whether there is anything new in it at all. What is clear is that in most of this discussion has been about the ‘FE white paper’ with the implications for higher education rarely discussed.

Debbie McVitty on Wonkhe has been the exception in exploring the implications for HE and linking it to the interim findings of the Augar review of post-18 funding.2 What unites all of this policy busyness is the belief that the education system needs to be rebalanced away from the academic path (universities) and towards the vocational path (colleges and apprenticeships).

The mechanism proposed in the white paper to do this is essentially the extension of the HE student loan system to the whole population to use to access the full range of education and training opportunities.

None of these changes to the funding system will actually kick in until 2025 (which means that there is a lot of debate still to take place about them). It is also arguable as to whether this kind of shift in funding will really drive the kind of change in educational choice making the government is imagining. What is clear is that if it was going to work, the government will need to make sure that people have access to good quality careers advice as they juggle this new landscape of entitlements, loans and educational opportunities.

Key commitments in the white paper

The white paper aims to:

  1. Increase the availability of skills to the economy and the alignment of education with the needs of business
  2. Provide a mechanism for ‘leveling up’ and increasing opportunity for all citizens by improving access to learning
  3. Rebalance the education system away from universities and towards vocational and technical education.

It seeks to achieve this by:

  • developing a lifetime skills guarantee for all citizens
  • reforming the funding of post-18 learning provision and integrating further education into the higher education loan system
  • aligning education and training provision with employers’ needs and funding colleges to connect their offer more strongly to employers
  • providing colleges with £1.3billion in capital funding.

Many of the announcements in the white paper are not new but reiterate and extend existing policies and practices.

What it means for careers

The white paper includes a section entitled ‘clear and trusted information, advice and guidance for careers and education choices’, which essentially serves as a replacement for the now expired 2017 Careers Strategy.3

I have published a detailed analysis and critique of the white paper’s implications for career guidance for the Career Development Institute. In it I argue that the white paper makes the following commitments on career development:

  • requiring schools to provide independent career guidance from year 7
  • publishing updated statutory guidance for careers
  • supporting and strengthening the Baker clause’, which requires schools to provide pupils with access to information about vocational options
  • continuing the rollout of the Careers Hubs
  • investing in more training for careers leaders
  • revamping the National Careers Service website.

It also sets out some longer-term plans for the scrutiny and development of the field. These include asking Ofsted to undertake a thematic review of career guidance and Sir John Holman to undertake a review to improve the alignment of The Careers & Enterprise Company and the National Careers Service as part of an all-age careers system.

As you will see, all of the proposals are strongly focused on schools’ careers provision with very little improvement in lifelong access to career development and nothing with any direct implications for careers work in higher education.

What is left out?

Despite proposing a range of useful and practical initiatives, the white paper falls considerably short of being a lifelong careers strategy.

It does not link with HE widening participation initiatives, offers nothing for higher education students and ignores the career transitions and challenges of graduates. Rather than offering a lifelong vision of careers and career support, the white paper falls back on the idea that all career decisions are made before you leave school.

Secondly, the white paper fails to offer a way forward on personal career guidance (careers advice), both within the education system and beyond it. There is no attention given to where people should get careers advice from nor on the professionalism of who should be giving it. The opportunities to set minimum standards for the career guidance that should be available in higher education or to leverage the generally high standard of careers advice available within the HE sector are missed altogether.

Finally, the fact that the approach to career guidance set out in the white paper is largely a continuation of existing policy should set alarm bells ringing. We are now in a crisis that is very different from the situation of 2017. We need new, more radical and better funded solutions rather than more of the same.

Given this, it is hoped that the announcements in the white paper only represent the beginning of a bigger process of reform and investment in England’s career guidance system.

The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the position of Prospects/Jisc.


  1. Skills for Jobs: Lifelong Learning for Opportunity and Growth, Department for Education, 2021.
  2. What do the interim Augar response and Skills for Jobs white paper mean for HE?, Wonkhe, 2021.
  3. Careers strategy: Making the most of everyone’s skills and talents, Department for Education, 2017.


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