Careers advice - navigating the fluff

14 April 2015

Young people interested in the creative and cultural industries need tailored, knowledgeable and inspirational careers advice. Julia Hayes, Create Jobs, describes the changing landscape of careers advice, reviewing what’s currently on offer and reflecting on future recommendations for a better approach.

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Back in 1993, a talented school friend of mine destined for a stellar collection of GCSE results attended his first careers advice session: after tapping preferences into a green glowing Amstrad PC the resulting career suggestion was a rather unexpected ‘chicken sexer’. My friend, growing up in suburban Greater Manchester, had more than a few questions for the attendant careers advisor and unfortunately went away from the whole experience distrusting the quality of the advice. His subsequent choices led him to be a successful Head of a South London Primary.

We may all know similar stories of abysmal careers advice based on rudimentary computer algorithms or given by unprepared teachers proffering ring binders of suggestions. Olivia Colman, the acclaimed British actress was advised, at school, to consider a career as a long-distance lorry driver. Imagine how disappointing ITV’s Broad-church might have been if she’d followed that path; whilst Ms Colman clocked up the mileage on the M1, Eddie Stobart may have questioned the suspicious suspects on the small screen.

Careers advice in schools has reached a critical moment

In 2012 the Confederation of British Industry described careers advice in schools as being on ‘life-support’. As schools come up with ways to provide this service independently, the landscape of careers advice shifts. Against this backdrop the think-tank, Public Policy Exchange held a conference; Taking action: Strengthening the Role of Careers Guidance in Schools and Colleges. It gave a great picture of what good careers advice could look like.

Replicating what went before on current resources would be a struggle however. Back in 2004 Connexions had a £450 m budget, and a staff of 7,700 Personal Advisers and more than 2,400 other front line staff. In December last year the Coalition government announced plans for a ‘careers advice company’ which would focus on ‘young people aged 12 to 18, helping them access the best advice and inspiration about the world of work by encouraging greater collaboration between schools and colleges and employers.’ Based on a £20m budget, this perhaps wouldn’t compare well to the scale of the Connexions service.

Labour’s election manifesto contains promises to shift funds being used to widen participation at university level, to establishing a careers advice offer that would guarantee teenagers a face- to- face guidance interview, emphasising both vocational and academic routes into careers.

The thinking coming out of the Public Policy Exchange conference repeatedly highlighted the need for face- to- face support. Rajay Naik, member of the National Careers Council was reassured that the young people accessing information, advice and guidance (IAG) online were amply supplied with information and even advice, but what they really needed was the guidance to help them navigate the vast availability of information out there.

At the conference, it was possible to build up a good sense of the key components of a strong careers advice offer. Firstly, Simon Reichwald of Bright Futures emphasised the need for the structure and design of the programme to be youth-led. Young people are simultaneously learning new skills around project management and events production as they develop the programme.

Face- to- face support to help young people manage an often overwhelming amount of information available online.

Also, the advice should not automatically offer the traditional route into A Levels and then on to university; it should be tailored to an individual young person’s interests and talents, understanding the changing landscape of the work place and promoting alternative routes such as apprenticeships.

Careers advice conducted outside of schools widens aspirations and makes the possibilities of alternative routes a more realisable prospect when the environment is changed.

Peer networks provide mentorship and advice from other young people, a few years ahead in their development, and can often resonate with young people, by providing more relevant and useful advice for the years ahead.


How do we help at Create Jobs?

Create Jobs, A New Direction’s employment and progression strand is in a unique place to offer some of these components.

  • We have a network of young people aged 16-24 who we’ve placed in creative and cultural employment settings. They are engaged, committed and often very keen to pass down the advice and experiences they have received through a connection to this programme.
  • We are situated, not in schools, but at the centre of the cultural and creative sector.
  • We understand that routes into these industries are often a meandering set of varied experiences that build to a prestigious career and can advise on this basis.
  • We can help connect young people with exceptional apprenticeships with exceptional employers.
  • We provide tailored and individual support to the young people we meet, and so as careers advice develops we want to be at the heart of the offer across London.

So how might life have been different if my school friend had chosen to follow the career path of a chicken sexer? It may have led to travel, heading to the Zen-Nippon Chick Sexing School in Japan. He could have been looking at a starting salary of £40,000 a year. Additionally, it could be said to be ‘future-proof’ as intangible and subtle techniques are used, almost divining the sex of the chick; a sophisticated judgement irreplaceable by technology. The recommendation towards this career could have been good advice, with reassuring industry knowledge, however as it was communicated in the original careers session, the advice was meaningless. This is the point; alongside establishing the fundamental characteristics of good careers advice set out above, it needs to be enthusiastic, open-minded and backed up with knowledge of the particular sector. This is certainly true when suggesting a career in the creative and cultural industries, guarding against incorrect assumptions about unstable careers and elitist barriers.

Careers advice needs reforming, and like teaching how to sex a chick, young people need to be guided through a fluffy yellow mass of information to discern the right characteristics to succeed.