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La La Careers Land

The Apprenticeships and Skills Minister invites you to share in his escapist careers world fantasy.

I am delighted to have the opportunity today to talk to you about lifelong careers, which will play a significant part in this government’s industrial strategy.

What he meant

You are a carefully-selected friendly audience who won’t ask difficult questions. Today is a holding operation. I’m still not ready to say anything meaningful and I certainly won’t be reminding people that my government promised last March that the careers strategy was on its way. Usually, I only agree to do these speeches when I can announce some new funding but as I still haven’t a clue whether or not I can wring any money out of the Treasury for careers, I’ll re-announce that we’ve given the Careers and Enterprise Company £90 million over five years and, hopefully, people will forget that we used to think that young people’s lives were so important that we spent over £200 million a year on Connexions. If I tell everyone how important careers is, they’ll never notice that it is just one of 14 actions and commitments under only one of the ten pillars of the industrial strategy.

I see careers advice as the first rung on a ladder of opportunity, a ladder that people will continue to climb throughout their lifetime.

What he meant

How clever of me to think of a ladder as a metaphor for careers. I bet no-one ever thought of that before. It really does give the impression that we’re serious about doing something to improve social mobility; but with any luck I’ll be moved into another ministerial post before it becomes obvious that this is just hot air.

I strongly believe that the conditions are right to not only transform the nature of careers guidance, but of technical education and apprenticeships, to give everyone the necessary skills and training to open up opportunities and jobs for their futures.

What he meant

I’ve no idea what ‘transform the nature of careers guidance’ really means but it sounds impressive. Actually, all I want careers to do is support my department’s policies on apprenticeships and technical education. I’m not even going to mention the value of academic education as a route into higher education.

Our starting point in creating a careers system that works for everyone is to build on what works.

What he meant

I’ll just give a plug to what the Careers and Enterprise Company is doing to build on what works. People will be amazed at the coincidence that ‘what works’ just happens to correspond with my government’s policies on abolishing the statutory right to careers and work-related education, dismantling support programmes and services, making schools responsible for careers guidance, reviving a 1980s model of enterprise education and widely disparaging the role of careers professionals in favour of employers who are all, by definition, inspirational.

1. Improving the prestige of careers

I am delighted to confirm that we will publish a comprehensive careers strategy for all ages later this year.

What he meant

I can’t put this off any longer. The pressure to be seen to be doing something from within Parliament and from every major business organisation, especially in the STEM sector, is becoming unbearable. I’ll say that schools have got to have their own comprehensive and tailored strategy even though I know this won’t happen unless we incentivise schools by changing the Ofsted inspection framework and the way we report on schools but l’ll never get those changes past my colleagues.

2. Expand the quantity and quality of careers provision

Let me be clear: I want to reach a position where all schools and colleges are offering exceptional careers advice and guidance, through their own comprehensive and tailored strategy.

What he meant

If I tell schools to use the ‘Gatsby benchmarks’ and ‘Career Compass’ and that we’re going to improve the Destination Measures that should be enough. I haven’t made up my mind yet about what I think about recommending that schools should aim for the national Quality in Careers Standard so I’ll keep quiet about that for now. It’s hard to think of doing anything that doesn’t involve providing additional funding but I’ll tell schools anyway that money isn’t the solution!

3. Meeting the needs of a skills economy

It is clear to me that if we are truly to meet the needs that our economy has for the full range of skilled workers, we need to drive improvements in productivity, and this relies heavily on a stronger and better system of careers advice and guidance.

What he meant

Yes. Careers guidance is responsible for the low productivity that has bedevilled this country for years. It’s obviously because students weren’t listening properly to their careers adviser when they had their 40-minute interview in Year 11.

The careers system must serve the needs of the economy. I have no time for namby-pamby notions such as careers guidance being there to help young people live the lives they want to lead, to seek decent and fulfilling work and to contribute to the wellbeing of themselves, others in society and the planet.

4. Support for the most disadvantaged

We know just how important careers advice and guidance is for those young people who are from more disadvantaged backgrounds or have special educational needs: those who face different challenges or bigger hurdles to overcome when making choices about their future.

What he meant

Like motherhood and apple pie, no-one is going to dispute that this is a good thing. I just hope that people don’t remember that we curtailed the ability of local authorities to support the most disadvantaged and we’ve never really promoted the idea that the Pupil Premium could be spent in this way.

5. Job security

In taking action in all of these areas, we mustn’t lose sight of our primary aim and purpose, which is for careers advice and guidance to ultimately lead to meaningful employment.

What he meant

Meaningful employment isn’t really anything that those delivering careers advice and guidance can control but if Brexit turns sour then it will be good to be able to pin the blame on someone other than ourselves.

So in conclusion, it is clear to me that careers is a vitally important part of my brief, which can make a fundamental contribution to this government’s industrial strategy. To support this, we will publish a strategy that will do the following:

  • consider the prestige attached to careers information, advice and guidance
  • seek to raise the quality of careers provision for people of all ages
  • ensure we are truly addressing the skills needs of our country
  • support those who are most disadvantaged and use careers to improve social justice
  • focus our efforts on securing the end goal of meaningful skilled employment, ensuring a country that works for everyone

I want to ensure that great careers guidance provides the first rung on the ladder of opportunity, helping everyone to achieve their full potential.

What he meant

My conclusion is a lot less forceful than the main body of my speech. Considering the prestige of CIAG is not the same as improving it. Seeking to raise the quality of careers provision is not the same as expanding it. I threw in ‘ensuring a country that works for everyone’ at the end to show I’m on message. My tailor has just made me some splendid new clothes and tells me how good I look in them. I can’t wait to be seen wearing them.


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  • Anne Marie Martin

    Wow!! Completely skewered! I feel we (and our government) are letting our young people down badly. I wish I thought things were going to get better but, unfortunately, I’m really not sure about that. What a future….

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  • Christopher Jones

    By definition neoliberals are not in the business of self-actualisation.  CEIAG that empowers people to make choices that are right for them is a threat to neoliberal principles.  No-one would actually choose zero hour contracts!

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