Turning careers policy in to practical solutions

Andy Pickles
CEO, U-Explore

On Friday 26th January we launched our first Start Roadshow hosted by J.P. Morgan in London with the aim of helping schools and colleges translate the recent careers guidance strategy into practical solutions and deliver on the most important aspect of this; outcomes for young people.

Kamal Motalib from J.P. Morgan provided a warm welcome and explanation about the work they are doing through their global philanthropy fund to improve the employability skills and life chances of young people and why they viewed Start as part of that solution.

I had the pleasure of hosting the event which gave me the opportunity to share my own experience and insights from 15 years of working in what I referred to as the vacuum between business and education. In this time I have been an academy sponsor, school governor, businessman and more latterly a parent of teenagers going through secondary school making choices, which has given me a 360 degree perspective.

In my opening address I took the opportunity to highlight where I believe the challenge is for employers and educators, which is having an appreciation of the reality of what and who we are dealing with when it comes to delivering a meaningful experience for young people.

The Careers Strategy and subsequent Statutory Duty for schools sets out the expectation for good quality careers advice and guidance and the Gatsby Benchmarks provide the good practice framework.  However, what’s often missing is an appreciation of the reality of what’s happening on the ground in a typical school with regard to funds available for careers and employability and more importantly time.

Educators and employers recognise what needs to happen to help young people progress. I don’t come across anyone who doesn’t care about the issue but it comes down to priorities and the need for simple practical solutions that fit into an already crowded curriculum and school day.

With this in mind a good starting point for the Roadshow was to shine a light on a school that has a Good with Outstanding features rating by Ofsted, whilst also delivering a comprehensive careers guidance programme underpinned by Start. We featured a video showcasing how Start is used in action at Grace Academy in Solihull.

U-Explore’s Director of Education & Policy Simon Hepburn then provided a concise overview of the Careers Strategy focussing on the ‘musts’ and ‘shoulds’ of the statutory guidance and associated timeframes.

The takeaway from Simon’s presentation was how Start has been mapped to the Gatsby Benchmarks to provide schools with simple practical solutions, such as using the ‘Locker’ feature to enable students to record their career and enterprise activities and in doing so being able to evidence Gatsby Benchmark 3 – addressing the needs of each pupil by keeping and having access to accurate records.

“In simple terms the ‘Locker’ is a digital record of achievement where students can record and evidence the development of their employability skills and experiences.”

From the policy overview we moved on to a firm slice of reality from The Education Alliance, a Multi Academy Trust from East Yorkshire with 5 academies covering both primary and secondary.

Barry Gray, Assistant Head from South Hunsley School and Sarah Barley, Trust Director for Careers and Employability led an insightful presentation rich with ideas and outcomes for delegates wishing to embed careers and employability across their school. Personalisation was key and capturing ideas and aspirations as early as primary school was important to enable conversations to happen and ideas to be built up on. Start provides South Hunsley School with structure and Trust-wide access for all students, staff and parents to a comprehensive platform. Start helps to both inspire and inform them about all careers and pathways which underpins their ground-breaking Employer Led Programme.

As I stated at the start of this blog, outcomes for young people has to be front and centre of everything we do so having the input from Rob and Luke (two Year 12 students from South Hunsley School) who shared their personal experiences of how Start has helped them provided a powerful context.

“It starts with thinking about the future, broadening horizons and overcoming stereotypes.”

Wherever we host a Start Roadshow we will involve local partners to provide a local context and as this was London we invited Sarah Wilkins (Senior Programme Manager from the Greater London Authority) who spoke about London Ambitions and updated delegates on the development of the career clusters, the growing Enterprise Advisor network and how schools can access opportunities for young people via the London Ambitions portal.

In my opening address I also touched on the importance of measuring the impact of careers programmes. The ‘so what’ factor! How do we know what’s working? Are you closing the STEM gap? Are your students aspirations aligned with labour market availability? Are your students learning from labour market information as recommended in Gatsby Benchmark 2? Can we evidence it?

We designed Start to ensure all students can build a personal profile and record their aspirations and experiences, which enables us to capture valuable data to improve their experience on Start and for schools and colleges to use this data to personalise the guidance experience for them in line with the expectation of Gatsby Benchmark 8. If you can’t measure it you can’t manage it. So, to underpin the work we are doing with J.P. Morgan and to provide U-Explore with the evidence and research needed to improve our products and the programmes we provide schools and colleges we are working closely with Dr Sally-Anne Barnes and her team from the Warwick Institute for Employment Research.

“Better understand the impact of CEIAG activities and you’ll improve the effectiveness of provision in schools.”

As labour market information is key for the delivery of a stable careers programme, Sally-Anne provided delegates with an overview of the work being done by the IER, including the development of the LMI for All service. The LMI for All database provides a reliable and up-to-date source of national data and careers labour market information, which can be accessed through an API or through the careerometer widget. The LMI for All data underpins the labour market information included on Start which is a great way to evidence how you are delivering on Gatsby Benchmark 2.

Sally-Anne highlighted the importance of capturing data relating to the effectiveness of careers information and guidance, and how we will work together to better understand the impact of interventions on short, medium and long term outcomes for students. By working with the IER we are looking to drive improved personalisation of the information provided to each student using Start as well as providing evidence on what works for schools, employers and policy makers.

The final session of the day opened up the stage and the floor for debate and a Q&A with our panel consisting of Stephen Isherwood, CEO of the Institute for Student Employers; Kay Vaughan, Senior Enterprise Coordinator from Inspira working with Lancashire schools; and Andy Tupman, Emerging Talent Manager for Yorkshire Building Society.

All our panelists offered valuable insight into the work they are doing with a strong theme of early engagement with young people coming through to better prepare them for the interview process. Andy Tupman gave a great insight into how securing a quality apprenticeship opportunity with YBS can be very challenging.

The development of interpersonal skills was seen as a key gap and the ability to express how they have developed skills and competencies without just referring to sport was also an issue to address.

With the Gatsby Benchmarks being central to the careers strategy it was incredibly valuable to have Kay Vaughan as a speaker to update on how schools are fairing when using the Careers & Enterprise Company’s Compass audit toolkit. There is an expectation that by 2020 all schools will be expected to be able to evidence how they are delivering against all 8 Gatsby Benchmarks. Whilst there is good progress across the Lancashire schools that Kay and her team are working with, she cited one of the key gaps is data and tracking which is where she saw Start playing a major role.

All panelists focussed strongly on the need for meaningful encounters with employers and the need to engage earlier with young people but also the need to provide more structure and purpose echoing the issue of how difficult this can be for both educators and employers.

The Q&A also had a strong focus on the difficultly schools faced and in particular how to resource visits to employer workplaces linked to Gatsby Benchmark 6 when funding was so limited. However, examples were presented where schools have be resourceful, utilised their Enterprise Advisor and their employer networks. This discussion created a great exchange between the delegates.

“We need a proper talent pipeline… and that starts in schools. Start puts us on a national platform to achieve this.”

The RAF and J.P. Morgan both talked about the range of opportunity for young people within their organisations and their willingness to engage with schools, which provoked a discussion about how U-Explore can take forward a broader discussion about effective brokerage and how we can utilise our employer partners.

Sadly, we ran out of time but this was certainly an important part of the Roadshow format. The ability for delegates to interact with each other and debate issues with panelists is something we will take forward to our next events.

For 4.30pm on a Friday afternoon it was fantastic to see so many delegates staying on to continue the debate and network with each other and, personally, more motivation to continue the work we started with the launch of startprofile.com.

It was clear that meaningful encounters with employers can provide significant value to schools and have a massive impact on young people if done well; but therein lies the problem and one that we will take away to solve.

Phase one for U-Explore was to introduce a product in to the market which put everything in to one place for schools and provide it for free so we could build scale. With scale we can then provide employers with a technical infrastructure through which they can work more effectively with schools and inspire young people far earlier with the right information at the right time. With over 3,000 registered schools and colleges and our first wave of employer partners now on-board we are in a fantastic position to now start on phase 2.  This will see us help schools and employers close that vacuum and work more effectively together enabling the workforce of today to inspire the workforce of tomorrow.

The key points I took away from the event which I hope also resonated with delegates, were:

  • Personalisation of a young persons experience is key
  • Starting early sowing seeds and provoking conversations is a strong foundation for a stable careers programme
  • Better structure and support is required to enable meaningful encounters with employers
  • Tracking the impact of a careers programme and recording student data is a gap for many schools
  • Keep it simple and do the simple things well