Urgent and meaningful careers advice needed

Amid the headlines of the interim Tomlinson report on the future of 14-19
education, one recommendation went almost entirely unnoticed – namely the
careers information, advice and guidance that is given to young people.

Industry is crying out for bright young people who can be trained to the
highest technical levels. Unfortunately, companies are regularly frustrated in
their efforts to recruit by the misleading, incomplete and lacklustre advice
and guidance given to young people about opportunities in the sector.

The latest evidence from Semta (the Sector Skills Council for Science,
Engineering and Manufacturing Technologies) would suggest that the vast
majority of young people who have started an Engineering Modern Apprenticeship
were advised against it by teachers and advisers. If these are the ones who
ignored the advice and pursued these careers, how many more were convinced that
the academic route was ‘better’ and, are now taking A-levels when the
work-based route might have been more suitable?

It is unacceptable for young people to still be told that an apprenticeship
is the only route left if they fail to make the grades for the traditional
academic route. Not only does this give a completely false impression of the
nature of an engineering apprenticeship, it also creates unrealistic
expectations among low-achievers, and discourages the brightest and best from
considering anything other than academic qualifications.

The government-funded Connexions service – charged with focusing on careers
advice for the disaffected and those in danger of dropping out of education and
training – is not giving the majority effective guidance. A swift calculation
of the number of careers advisers divided by number of students in the system
indicates that, on average, each young person receives less than 20 minutes of
careers advice a year. Given that Connexions advisers are spending the majority
of their time on a very small proportion of students, this leaves almost
nothing for the rest.

The EEF believes the solution will need to take many forms. Schools and
companies must work together, bridging the gaps between education and business,
and providing a real insight into the huge range of opportunities available. We
must show how engineering facilitates and improves all our lives and, far from
being in the realms of the past, will be at the forefront of our future in
solving many of the environmental problems we face. People need to see that
engineers are not stereotypical abstract boffins or greasy mechanics, but
dynamic, intelligent individuals who see the world and try to make it better.

Only by meeting real people and seeing real companies can enthusiasm be
sparked. Poor quality careers advice to young people is not just a disservice
to the individuals themselves, but to companies and the overall economy.

By David Yeandle, Deputy director of employment policy, EEF

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