Careers Leaders can help young people navigate an uncertain future

Blog posts

22 Apr 2020

Helena Takala, Research Officer
Joy Williams, Senior Research Officer

Helena Takala

Joy Williams

Judging by the number of nervous references to the ‘strange and uncertain times’ in our inboxes, the metaphysical and economic uncertainty caused by the Covid-19 pandemic is at the forefront of all of our minds. What will the world look like when we emerge from the lockdown? Will we remember how to function in an office after months of working from home? Which industries will survive the economic freeze? Will we all have jobs at the end of this?

If we as adults are uncertain about the future, how scary must it be for our young people? Just a few weeks ago, they were revising for exams and making choices about future study and work. In the space of just a few weeks, all that has been upended. Young people will no longer sit their exams and the economic uncertainty will make many of them anxious about the future. The world of work may seem full of pitfalls and potential wrong turns.

Sadly, these worries are not unfounded. Young people tend to be more adversely affected by economic downturns than other age groups, and are likely to be significantly affected by this one too. Taking just one immediate metric, nearly a third of young workers (aged 18-24) are in ‘shut down’ sectors, compared with one in eight of those aged 25 or over. Young people who enter the labour market during a recession are also more likely to experience negative economic effects over the life course.

It is instructive for researchers and policy-makers to specifically add careers guidance into the mix of policies aimed at curbing youth unemployment. The Institute’s recent paper and blog on the labour market effects of the Covid-19 economic downturn recommend that young people are given a meaningful offer of education, training or employment. Crucially, we recommend that these opportunities are offered alongside effective careers guidance in order to help young people make informed choices at this critical conjuncture.

The economic uncertainty comes at a time of significant change in the Government’s approach to careers education in England. With the economic context shifting, we want to consider these policy shifts against the backdrop of the Covid-19 crisis, and reflect on what it means for the Government’s policy-making and funding of careers.

What’s new with careers?

The 2017 Careers Strategy enshrined the Gatsby Benchmarks in policy and called for all schools and colleges to have a ‘Careers Leaders’ in post. Careers Leaders are new roles – they are envisaged as senior or middle leaders who can bring visibility to the careers agenda and who have the clout to implement a school-wide strategy for careers. They are careers specialists in their institution but also outward-facing, networking with local employers to ensure that the delivery is relevant for the local economy.

It is not an easy time to be a Careers Leader. There has been training available (from Teach First and the Careers and Enterprise Company), but while broadly successful it has not been taken up by all new Careers Leaders. From 2018, the role of Careers Leader was implemented across England but given the ‘newness’ of the role, many Careers Leaders had only just recently started in the new role when schools closed in March 2020. When schools and colleges open again the focus of many senior management teams will inevitably be the expected immediate dip in attainment rather than later careers outcomes. In this challenging context, Careers Leaders may struggle to get the attention and resources they need.

But despite the challenges facing schools and colleges in the post-lockdown world, it is vitally important that we do not go back on the good work done on careers in recent years. The reforms have elevated the status of careers education, driven up standards and established new careers professionals who have a clear remit and a statutory expectation to deliver high-quality careers education. With a looming labour market crisis that will disproportionately hit young people, we need schools and colleges on board with the careers agenda – now more than ever.

Careers Leaders have an opportunity to play a big part in preparing young people for the economic uncertainty ahead. Good career guidance helps people to understand themselves in relation to the world of work, including what skills they have and how these can be transferred to different sectors. Careers Leaders can, in this new context, create a programme of activities that focus on resilience in the face of economic shocks. By networking with their Local Enterprise Partnerships (LEPs) and gathering information about the local economy, they can interpret the immediate and medium-term effects of the downturn for young people who can then become more informed and empowered in their careers decision-making.

Against the current context, it is vital that careers education in schools and colleges receives more and ring-fenced funding to enable Careers Leaders to dedicate time to their role and maintain careers education as a top priority list. In parallel, the continuation and expansion of funding for Careers Leaders training will build the confidence and capability of Careers Leaders at this vital time for young people – more Careers Leaders need the chance to access this in order to ensure young people can make effective transitions.

The good news for young people making choices about their future is that despite the uncertainty, government policy can make a big difference in securing jobs and opportunities for all – as long as there is the will to do it. We urge policy-makers not to forget careers education in schools and colleges when they weigh different policies targeting young people. Careers education should not be seen as a ‘nice to have’ but as part and parcel of the policy mix that will help secure the economic future of this generation of young people.

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Any views expressed are those of the author and not necessarily those of the Institute as a whole.