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Careers education – How balanced is your school’s careers provision?

Balancing careers education at scale with a truly personalised approach isn’t the impossible ask it’s sometimes made out to be, says Jim Burton...

  • Careers education – How balanced is your school’s careers provision?

Careers education is in the spotlight like never before; something I believe is critical both for the next generation and for our economy.

By the end of this year schools must be able to demonstrate that they meet all eight of the Gatsby Benchmarks, and while this deadline comes as no surprise, it does present a focus that simply can’t be ignored any longer.

Nevertheless, educators across the country are concerned by the prospect of delivering a more extensive careers programme, while ensuring that it meets the needs of each and every student on an individual basis. Is this level of concern well-founded, or just a misunderstanding?

Like it or not, the need for careers programmes to be rooted in the core principles embodied by the Gatsby Benchmarks cannot be denied.

For too long, the provision of careers education in the UK has failed to deliver for young people, for the business community and for the economy of this country.

Focusing on the link between subject excellence and suggested careers, with a smattering of careers guidance thrown in, was never going to be a recipe for success. Sadly though, this has been the experience of generations of young people.

So, while the need for change is seemingly undeniable, is the new vision that is proposed realistic? I’d argue, that yes, it is.

Empowering digital natives

The concept of comprehensive career skills development across a longer time frame, and with markedly increased opportunities to gain insight into the world of work, does, at face value, appear to create a noticeably greater time burden on the educator.

The fact that this programme needs to be linked with a truly personalised approach that meets the needs of each and every student further exacerbates this demand.

We also have to bear in mind the way in which technology has permeated all aspects of modern life. Technology brings many benefits, yet at the same time, its effects are unpredictable.

The impact technology is having on the world of work is already affecting careers guidance provision.

Not only must educators strike a balance between delivering a more comprehensive and personalised programme, they must also now face the need to provide support and advice to students for careers that may not yet exist!

But this isn’t the challenge it initially appears to be. Let’s not forget that students today are digital natives.

They have always been able to easily access an incredible amount of knowledge and information, and while this can prove overwhelming, it can become enormously empowering when utilised effectively.

And it is this, I believe, that is the key to success in balancing careers education at scale with a highly personalised approach.

Being able to harness the power and value of all the information available requires appreciation of a set of three core principles that are surprisingly simple and easy to implement in a school or college.

Critical attributes

The first of these principles is the school-wide integration of careers education and 21st century skills development. We must abandon the notion that careers education is a bolt-on to the main curriculum.

It must be fully integrated across all subject areas, with educators empowered to help students identify the skills, learning and experiences that will strengthen their futures.

Employers continue to indicate that young people entering the workplace lack work-ready, soft skills. The need to identify, support and nurture critical attributes, such as teamwork, analytical thinking and problem solving, has never been more important.

The second of these principles is empowering educators. Put simply, the best teachers are the passionate ones. We all have memories of that teacher who was genuinely interested in the subject that they taught.

These teachers delivered lessons with passion, and as a consequence, theirs would often be the subjects in which we achieved our best results. Why should careers education be any different?

It’s no secret that teachers are under immense time constraints, and that many are struggling to meet the continually increasing demands of the education system.

Technology has driven limitless efficiencies in all other aspects of our lives, and I believe it should be leveraged to support careers education and planning.

This is the only solution to the challenge of adequately preparing young people for their successful futures in the world of work.

Better management of administrative tasks, opportunities to deliver highly personalised career skills and work experience at scale and the means to access turnkey lessons – all become possible through appropriate use of technology.

We must encourage educators to embrace this and employ it to positive effect in their delivery of careers guidance.

Beyond plan A

The final core principle is a commitment to agility and flexibility. The world of work is forever evolving, and the way in which we prepare today’s young people must be similarly agile. This will ensure that we empower each and every student to be ready to adapt and change direction.

Assuming that students will pursue a single career pathway is no longer realistic, nor does it reflect society today.

It’s almost inevitable that interests and abilities will change and mature. Being able to recognise and react to this is both braver and more beneficial in the long term than sticking to Plan A for Plan A’s sake.

So I return to the original question: is it impossible to balance delivering careers education at scale with a truly personalised approach? My short answer is no – yet if it were really that simple, then surely we’d have achieved it already.

What I hope I’ve triggered with my more detailed response is curiosity.

I hope you are inspired to look at the incredible amount of information that we have at our fingertips and see that by leveraging technology as a means to make sense of that information, we stand a better chance of delivering highly personalised careers education at scale.

This is about so much more than the systematic passing of information from educator to student. It’s about empowering and engaging students, igniting their curiosity.

Technology offers a clear solution to the challenge of providing students with up-to-date information on skills and careers in a continually changing landscape.

We now need to consider how we can support schools and educators in engaging with and implementing this critical technology for the benefit of students, yes, but also for society as a whole. When we do so, I don’t doubt that we’ll succeed in meeting the challenge posed.


The Gatsby Career Benchmarks

Originally identified by emeritus professor of chemistry, senior education advisor and former headteacher Sir John Holman, the following eight Gatsby Careers Benchmarks are intended to serve as a framework for efforts at improving careers provision within schools:

  1. A stable careers programme
  2. Learning from career and labour market information
  3. Addressing the needs of each pupil
  4. Linking curriculum learning to careers
  5. Encounters with employers and employees
  6. Experiences of workplaces
  7. Encounters with further and higher education
  8. Personal guidance

Jim Burton is CEO of the edtech and careers guidance technology provider Careers Advisory Service Computer Aid (CASCAid); for more information, visit cascaid.co.uk or follow @cascaid.

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