If we’re being honest, CEIAG conferences can be a real mixed bag. Some of the events that I have attended over the years have enthused and enlightened me and helped formulate the targets I then attempted to achieve over the subsequent period. Unfortunately, other events rely too heavily on unstructured “networking” time, outsource seminars to speakers without checking quality and run panels which are glorified puff spaces for participants to plug the work of their employer. The lack of funding available for CPD and the pressure to keep services running at practitioner’s home sites also means that the events colleagues do get out to attend need to be of a high quality.
With this in mind I attended the Careers & Enterprise Company 2nd Annual “Joining The Dots” Conference this month. Held in Sheffield at the English Institute for Sport, over 750 delegates attended for a day of speeches and breakout sessions while the Company then continued into Day 2 with meetings for their Headteacher advisory group and an awards ceremony.
Annual conferences such this do have a slightly different remit to the news sharing and highlighting of innovative practice that many CPD events do. Annual conferences are usually more to rally the troops and build a positive collective feeling around the work of the organisation. “Joining the Dots” definitely seemed to aim for the second of those remits with a morning session led by both the Chair, Christine Hodgson and the CEO, Claudia Harris updating the audience on the progress of the CEC in building its infrastructure of personnel and networks. Both speakers were disappointingly light though on the actual impact of these new structures the CEC is building but more on that later. Delegates were then treated to the personal story of British Olympian Beth Tweddle which, while interesting, to me felt out-of-place and stuck out as a grasp for celebrity endorsement. Plenty of other delegates seemed to enjoy it though. Tweddle is also a Patron of the STEM based Your Life campaign so does have links to this area.
MC’d by Oli Barrett the session then moved quickly onto a Q&A with Claudia Harris and Carl Harris (Association of School & College Leavers) and Josh Hardie (CBI). The discussion moved through the broad themes around the interaction between employers and education with positive and conciliatory noises from both participants. It was noticeable though that, in one answer, Josh Hardie said that, “over 80% of businesses work with schools” which was not challenged by the other participants. This is a statistic from the CBI’s own annual Education & Skills Survey which is not consistent with findings from other research in this area as it claims a much higher rate of business involvement with education than others. The CEC has also looked at this in its “Cold Spots” report and if the organisation truly wishes to position itself on a standing of evidence based work, then it needs to balance out misinformation when it encounters it.
Then it was time for a lunch break. During this period delegates could browse a good range of exhibitors with products and services to offer in the CEIAG field.
The afternoon moved into two breakout sessions with a range of titles that looked at CEIAG Mentoring, offering provision for SEND pupils and updates on the forthcoming Enterprise Passport. I opted for “Effective Employer Engagement in Further Education” and found the panel full of useful advice regarding the role of Enterprise Advisers and FE. Approaching employer engagement is different in a FE College compared to a secondary school and the ways other Colleges had used Advisers as conduits to wider networks was thought-provoking.
My second session was back in the main hall for the “Building Capacity for Careers Leadership is Schools” which, while interesting, I later regretted not attending “Virtual Employer Encounters” as, the more I thought about this, the more concerned I became. On the face of things, it would seem like an easy win for the CEC, using the information from their Cold Spots report, to then offer the technology links for employers to offer virtual provision for young people in those regions. This type of provision though has its failings and it would also struggle to meet the Company’s own conclusions in its “Moments of Choice” report about the need for personalization for young people.
The day then finished with Lord Young offering an update on the plans for a national Enterprise Passport for young people to be able to evidence their achievements, skills and experiences outside of their usual qualification certificates.
Overall, I felt that the event was very ‘input’ orientated with a lack of substantive consideration for the outcomes the CEC is trying to achieve. Celebrating the employment of Enterprise Co-ordinators, the growth of the Enterprise Adviser network and the funding of localised CEIAG projects is worthwhile but these are structures, not the results. At it’s launch the outcomes of the CEC were to be judged as part of the wider performance management of the Post 19 education and skills sector. But this was under the 2010-2015 Coalition Government and much water has passed under the political bridge since then. Judgement on the impact of the CEC should be made against control groups or counterfactual analysis. Be it an improvement in employers satisfaction with the employability skills of young people (although the uncertainty over who will carry the skills survey once the duty of the now defunct UKCES won’t help that), lowering the number of NEET young people in the CEC’s designated “cold spot” areas or tracking the destination data of leavers from schools who meet the Gatsby benchmarks (via the Compass benchmarking tool) or who have been involved in the Mentoring scheme, the CEC has to show impact of its spending of public money. With this being it’s 2nd Annual conference, I was hoping for more detail of this area but, perhaps, the Company are mindful of the election and the impact this will have on the long-delayed Careers Strategy which may define these criteria.
(Photos from the CEC facebook page)