Back in the early days of the new government I went to Belfast to the Institute of Career Guidance conference. The highlight was hearing the new minister John Hayes outline his vision for a new National Careers Service that brought together the best of Connexions and Next Step.
We all know how that ended up. Tony Watts has forensically analysed the policies of the current government if you want the whole story, and he and I have also written about the end of Connexions.
Careers work with young people in England has gone through a massive crisis. We don’t know where that is going to end, but at the moment the new reality of school based careers work is still bedding in. I see little reason for optimism, but we don’t really have much choice but to see how it goes.
In the campaigns and the lobbying around youth careers services the actual National Careers Service has received surprisingly little attention. I think that we were all just pleased that it was there and that funding for adults’ career support had been maintained. Of course I’ve grumbled that it isn’t radical enough, that the website isn’t as exciting as I hoped and so on, but it is basically my job to point out the flaws. When we compared the National Careers Service to the mess that was emerging with youth careers services there seemed reason to be complacent.
However, I’m starting to think that I may have taken my eye off the ball on this one. I also fear that is hasn’t just been me. The National Careers Service has been moving through a number of quiet but possibly significant changes over the last few months and I think that it is important that we start to attend to them.
Firstly the service has been co-located with Jobcentre Plus in many places. Secondly it has become a major destination for unemployed Jobcentre clients to be compulsorily referred to (as in YOU MUST GET CAREERS ADVICE OR WE’LL STOP YOUR DOLE!!!!). Thirdly it has had a pretty low profile and minimal advertising budget amongst the general population.
Taken together all of these factors have meant that we’ve ended up with a service that is overwhelmingly used by unemployed people as part of their interaction with the Jobcentre. I think that forcing people into a careers interview is a pretty pointless strategy and likely to end up with the National Careers Service being seen as something that people want to avoid rather than embrace. However, perhaps most worrying the positioning of careers work as something that is only useful to the unemployed is a disaster.
There is a strong rationale for universal career support. Of course this should cover people transitioning to the labour market and those who are outside of the labour market, but it also needs to support those who are inside learning and inside the labour market. Helping everyone to make wise choices about where best to apply their skills and how best to realise their potential is an argument that works for both individuals and society/ the economy. This was the sort of vision that John Hayes promised and it seems to be one that is now slipping away.
My question is essentially is this change a question of short term strategy (“we’ve got to do something about unemployment, let’s use the NCS”) or is it one of policy (“working people don’t deserve any help”) or alternatively is it just a case of the headless policy chicken running around without much thought to the consequences.
I’m not sure.
I’d be interested to hear people’s thoughts about this – especially those who are working in the NCS.