Careers advice helps guide young people in their educational journey by revealing what careers require specific skills and qualifications. It is the vital ingredient in enabling young people to maximise the value of what they study and the qualifications they are awarded.

The central importance of careers advice is explored by a recent Sutton Trust report which found huge variability in careers advice provision, particularly between state and private schools, and between more and less deprived intakes within state schools.[1]

Careers advice is important as young people tend to only know jobs of which they have experience: doctor, bus driver, teacher, YouTuber or pop star. High quality careers advice helps to introduce students to potential career paths and facilitate the transition from secondary education to further education, higher education and employment.

The report, Paving the Way, presents important findings, including:

  • less than a third of 17- and 18-year-olds have completed work experience 
  • nearly a third of state school teachers say they don’t have enough funding to deliver good quality careers education 
  • one in three secondary school students do not feel confident about their next steps in education and training.

Remarkably, over three quarters of state school teachers (88%) felt that their teacher training didn’t prepare them to deliver careers information and guidance to students.

Thirty-six percent of students in the UK said they had not taken part in any careers related activities. State school pupils are more likely to report not having taken part (38%) compared to pupils at private schools (23%).

One of the key recommendations which could have significant impact is:

  • Greater time should be earmarked and integrated within the overall curriculum, and within subject curricula, to deliver careers education and guidance, to reflects its centrality to students’ future prospects. 

The Department for Education (DfE) appears to recognise these challenges. The recent Schools White Paper, commits to making sure “every child can reach the full height of their potential” and includes the following:[2]

“65. We want all children to be inspired by the options available to them when they leave school or college. We will launch a new careers programme for primary schools in areas of disadvantage and are extending the legal requirement to provide independent careers guidance to all secondary school children, as well as increasing the opportunities for them to meet providers of apprenticeships and technical education. We will also improve professional development for teachers and leaders on careers education, including strengthening understanding of apprenticeships and technical routes”[3]

Additional careers advice and embedding careers in curricula is clearly on the Government’s radar, and could be facilitated by the proposed minimum school week of 32.5 hours by September 2023.[4]

Young people make important decisions about their education and careers throughout their schooling. From GCSE and A-level subject choices, to post-16 options and apprenticeships, to which university and course to apply to. These choices have a big impact on their future education and career.

Both Paving the Way and the white paper are noble documents, to be sure, but there are intractable challenges in improving careers advice. The White Paper commits to improving professional development for teachers, but Paving the Way reveals this will be a major undertaking – as mentioned, over three quarters of state school teachers (88%) felt their training didn’t prepare them to deliver careers guidance and over a third (37%) of senior leaders think their school does not have adequate funding.

We need to consider more innovative solutions to address this issue, including potentially moving beyond the recent statutory guidance on careers advice for schools and colleges.

Having more careers advice sessions take place on-screen and online would allow careers advisers increased scale and could reduce costs for schools; this is a particular consideration in a policy landscape which does not – for the moment – include increased budgets.

Further, employers could be more involved in building links between careers advice and employers. This would have benefits for the schools involved, with tailored career advice from source, and represent potential benefits for employers as it would increase their contact with potential future talent.

High quality careers advice can help young people make the right decisions for them. There are huge opportunities, but challenges also. Careers advice only represents one part of the conundrum, but solving a puzzle requires many pieces working together.

[1] ERICA HOLT-WHITE, REBECCA MONTACUTE, LEWIS TIBBS, (2022) Paving the Way: Careers guidance in secondary school, Sutton Trust, online at: https://www.suttontrust.com/our-research/paving-the-way/

[2] Schools White Paper delivers real action to level up education - GOV.UK (www.gov.uk)

[3] Opportunity for all: strong schools with great teachers for your child - GOV.UK (www.gov.uk), emphasis added.

[4] Schools White Paper delivers real action to level up education - GOV.UK (www.gov.uk)