Month: September 2017

We are beset on all sides by the tyranny of bad CEIAG reports

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“say jobs of the future again, I dare you, I double dare you”

A lot of reports get published that look at the state of CEIAG provision for young people in the UK and offer improvement ideas. As well as policy makers there are a vast number of stakeholder organisations in this arena and across areas such as social mobility, apprenticeships, vocational education that all overlap with Careers Advice. Some of these organisations are more upfront in the policy ambitions of their backers than others but all have found that publishing a report is a proven method of gaining those all important media column inches if you want to advance your agenda.

Some sink, never to pass over the desks of Ministers while others take center stage in shaping Government thinking. The quality spectrum of these reports is wide and two came out recently that, to my mind, should be filed at the weaker end of the publication pool.

First up came Beyond the Numbers: Incentivising & implementing better apprenticeships from the University of Sheffield. Branded under their “Sheffield Solutions” research arm, the publication was based on a number of interviews with

local and national stakeholders in education, training and youth services, staff members – including tutors, trainers and employers

views from apprentices which were collected from

two focus groups and a number of in-depth, semi-structured interviews

as well as previous publications. The report includes quotes and stories that rehash the cliches of school CEIAG’s relationship to apprenticeships, including a lack of information regarding alternative to HE routes, a belief that apprenticeships were treated as a second class pathway and that high achieving pupils were actively discouraged from applying for them. The actual application figures of young people compared to the opportunities on offer, isn’t considered.

Where the report really falls down though is in it’s recommendations for schools

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  1. Rethinking school league tables to include apprenticeships – this already happens. When you go the DfE school comparison site you can find individual school data through school name, distance to your postcode, through Local Authority area or through Parliamentary Constituency. Users can then scroll down past huge amounts of information about the school to find the Pupil Destinations – what pupils did after key stage 4 drop down menu and, hey presto, there is that information.

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You can also find this data about key stage 5 leavers on the 16-18 tab further up the page.

Apprenticeship destination information is a single drop on a website that is an ocean of information about each school from the number of teachers, to the performance of disadvantaged pupils, to the number of pupils entered in Physics, Biology and Chemistry. Data on pupils remaining in education or employment after leaving the school is included in the headline data

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but the sheer amount of other information means that users are left to navigate to find what is important to them.

2. Extra training and resources for Careers Advisers in school about apprenticeships – nobody is ever going to say ‘no’ to more resources or extra training which is why the DfE has contracted organisations across the country to offer this to schools. The provider across the Midlands is Workpays. They will come into school to offer provision for students, send you resources and offer training. The DfE has a page with resources for schools and advisers and the ASK (Apprenticeship Support & Knowledge) providers will come and offer events for students. The University of Sheffield is, again, recommending something that already exists.

3. Coordinated, single application process for apprenticeships – Guess what, it already exists. Find An Apprenticeship is not a great website (it’s text search is terrible) but it is a single, coordinated portal for apprenticeships. All of the apprenticeships, they’re all on there. What it is not though is a single application process as many apprenticeship vacancies require an applicant to click through to the employer website to register (again) and complete an application. This is something that is out of the hands of Government as many employers will insist on their own hiring methods that are standardized across their business for all job roles. This is part of the challenge when supporting a young person through a labyrinth registration process on a company website full of business jargon but it fits established employer HR practices.

So all three of the recommendations for education are, to some extent, already in place which highlights how, while diagnosing problems with CEIAG provision may be achievable, offering solutions requires more a real understanding of the landscape.

The other report that caught my attention was Averting a 90Bn GDP crises: A report on the image and recruitment crises facing the built environment carried out by Kier Group by polling “2000 secondary school teachers, advisers and parents.” The Group, a profitable player in the UK construction market, look very keen to play their part in improving student career advice by pledging 1% of their workforce to act as ambassadors and place a “virtual world plaque” on sites to help the public “explore a digital world of information on a project.” They hope that these initiatives will begin to change widely held views of their industry as their poll reports 73% of parents not wanting their child to pursue a career in the sector and, despite 76% knowing that apprenticeships lead to careers in construction, 45% wouldn’t encourage their child to take an apprenticeship when leaving school. To it’s credit the report gives context to the current CEIAG landscape by devoting a whole page the loss of funding and the placing of the legal duty on schools in 2012.

Where the report fails to offer much value is, again, in the recommended solutions, both those from within the construction industry and from government, to improve the situation. Despite clearly identifying that parents are a persuasive and influential negative voice against young people aspiring to work in their industry they suggest nothing to then engage with parents. That parents are an important voice in shaping the career views of a young person is backed up by other data and we also have clear indications of how young people would like to receive their CEIAG and what types of provision help them most. An important type of provision is work experience and workplace visits, the report also fails to acknowledge or offer a proposal to grow the dearth of these opportunities in the sector.

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The 1% workforce ambassador pledge will hopefully, from a very low base, improve the number of work inspiration opportunities.

From Government they ask that the Careers & Enterprise Company is allowed to continue it’s work (it will be so this isn’t much of recommendation) and

2. Mandate that every school gives children a minimum of three one hour careers advice sessions – the first session with a school advisor, follow up sessions with ambassadors from relevant industries.
3. Ensuring the frameworks and resources are in place to support schools and colleges to meet all of the eight benchmarks identified by the Gatsby Foundation14 for best practice careers advice
4. Mandate that the careers advice process begins as early as possible in a young person’s life to enable them to make informed choices about their subject/course selection

which are all useful and worthwhile suggestions but after earlier acknowledging that

as part of the difficult choices made through austerity measures, funding for Connexions was cut, leaving a significant responsibility largely resting with schools themselves

and that

given substantial and repeated budget cuts, other schools are unable to provide the kind of service that they would aspire to

the report fails to then include the obvious point that these (uncosted) increases in service provision would require more funding. This shows a lack of willingness to bring up the funding of public services for the wider benefit and a failure to acknowledge the financial reality in schools.

Reports that help shine attention to the issues with employer engagement and CEIAG in schools but also then offer constructive solutions that work within the realities of the landscape are to be welcomed. Reports that finger point at a Careers service under funded and unable to solve all of the problems laid at it’s door without significant collaboration and investment, only have one purpose; to shift the focus of blame away from the other stakeholders.

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A picture collection: Bored students at Careers events

Getting CEIAG events organised, planned and running is no mean feat. You’ve done all of the prep work, you’ve booked the guests months in advance, managed to find a free room and then held off other members of staff trying to see if they can pinch it at the last-minute, you’ve reserved a parking space, smoothed things over with the lesson teachers that will have to supervise pupils a little over excited that something different is happening and then, the time arrives.

Your Careers event is finally taking place.

Perhaps a member of the Senior Team pops their head in and agrees that “it’s very important that they think of their futures, isn’t it,” perhaps the speaker isn’t as jovial or attention grabbing in front of the rows of hard to impress teenagers as they were in your planning meeting, perhaps the TA you were promised is off sick without cover and you…well, you just want everything to go well. You would like the pupils to get something positive from the event, for the feedback sheets to show they’ve taken something in and begun to reflect on their own future but it would also just be great if you could get a quick photo for the school website to show parents and the world that Careers work does happen here. Now you just need to find those interested looking faces to take a quick pic…

Classic “is this really going to last till break miss?” face on the young lady

 

Never snap when the 2am GTA streaming session is about to show itself in a yawn (bottom right 2nd pic)

 

A classic example of the “always frame it to miss out the back row kids” rule

 

“Sir! I said don’t take a photo!”

 

Add your own examples in the comments, none of us have been immune to the odd sour face messing up a photo of a great CEIAG event. Once, on a trip to a Russell Group University, I had a Year 10 flat-out refuse to take part in the group photo at the end of the day and went and stood by the car. The rest of group soon followed which meant I had a full on strike on my hands and had no photo for an expectant Headteacher looking for a good news story when we got back. I hope you enjoy your start to the new school year and are planning lots of exciting CEIAG events for teenagers to look nonplussed in.

The apprenticeship PR still doesn’t match the vacancy numbers reality

Every summer, the news cycle shines its brief gaze on the exam results of our nation’s youth and those you wish to promote their specific routes for young people attempt to gain PR traction usually by doing down the other pathways on offer. This summer I found it noticeable the extent articles and headlines blamed poor careers advice specifically in relation for a perceived lack of interest or knowledge in young people about apprenticeships.

A number of articles highlighted the results of an online survey conducted by YouGov on behalf of the Electrical Contractors’ Association (ECA) that reported that 8% of 15-18 year olds were being advised to pursue the apprenticeship route and that 28% had never been spoken to by their school or college about apprenticeships. This was picked up by specialist sites such as FE News and mainstream press such as The Mirror. The quoted response from Alex Meikle, the Director of the ECA, was that “too many young people are effectively being led up the garden path by careers advice in schools, which is significantly out of step with the needs of industry and future employers.”

Elsewhere, Labour MP Frank Field was writing in the TES that A Level students had “been sold a pup” by schools and advisers due to the increasing rates of apprentice pay progression and employment opportunities compared to the weakening graduate labour market. The Managing Director of the NOCN, Graham Hastings-Evans, was also in the TES, claiming that it was “not too late” for students let down by poor careers advice to still apply for vocational and apprenticeship routes. And finally, the new Apprenticeships and Skills Minister, Anne Milton, took the opportunity in The Telegraph to promote the route and the Government’s work on the Skills Plan.

All of this attention is welcome for promoting the full variety of routes on offer to young people but, in their haste to do down careers advice as the reason that large numbers of young people are still following traditional paths the writers are conveniently forgetting a number of facts.

  1.  Large numbers of secondary school pupils would consider taking vocational routes post 16

pupil survey1

2. Significant proportions of young people who want to pursue vocational pathways are battling unsupportive parents (same source)

parents apprenticeships

3. For Level 3 students, the choice of Higher Apprenticeships is miniscule

apprenticeship vacancies by level

Using the above data from the GOV.UK FE Data Library we can see that there have only been 3908 Higher Apprenticeship vacancies advertises in the whole 17/18 year to date, 3810 in 15/16 and 2870 in 14/15. So Apprenticeship provision at this level is growing but compare this to the numbers of students transitioning from Level 3 into traditional Higher Education routes. For the 2017 application cycle, just from England the total of 18 & 19 year olds applying for Higher Education was 319,100.

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The number of actual live Higher Apprenticeship vacancies in June 2017 when these young people were finishing their education courses or gap years and becoming available to the labour market? 590.

apprenticeship vacancies in june

To suggest that young people should take the apprenticeship route to protect against the waning wage benefit of graduate salaries is blindly ignoring the biggest hurdle facing those young people. There are nowhere near enough apprenticeship opportunities at that level for them to pursue.

4. Young people are registering on “Find an Apprenticeship” and applying for Apprenticeships in far greater numbers than the vacancies available

16-18 year olds are by the far the largest age group to register to be able to apply for Apprenticeship vacancies. 254,250 have registered in the year to date so far well on the way to the 280,200 who signed up in 15/16.

apprenticeship registrations by age1

This age group has, so far this year, gone on to make 939,630 applications.

apprenticeship registrations by age

5. We know that Apprenticeship employers favour hiring older applicants.

In 2015 Ofsted found that, “Under 19s made 56% of applications but only 27% of starts; 25+ made 7% of applications but 37% of starts” and that employers were reluctant to take on younger apprenticeship applicants as:

  • They believed too many 16-year-old school leavers lacked personal
    presentation and communication skills, or gave the impression at interview
    that they were immature and unreliable.
  • They recognised that employing an apprentice required a significant
    investment in time to train them in the generic employability skills and did
    not feel they could afford this.

To recap, over a quarter of a millon 16-18 year olds are making over 900,000 applications, going up against 262,970 other 18+ applicants for 169, 290 apprenticeship vacancies. 

Let’s go back to those survey figures from the ECA, using the 2016 Schools, Pupils and their Characteristics national tables data we can see that there were 1,549,000 15-18 year olds in English schools last academic year. 8% of this figure is 123,920 pupils that self reported that they were being advised to attempt to secure an apprenticeship. The total number of apprenticeships advertised so far this year is 169,298, so, in reality, the pipeline of young people being advised to take this route is proportionate to the number of vacancies on offer.

All of this shows there is already far greater interest in apprenticeships from that age group than there is base line opportunities. The Director of the ECA, and others, need to acknowledge that the challenge for apprenticeship recruitment for young people is not a lack of awareness or knowledge of the route but

  1. A lack of support with the whole application process from on line form to interview
  2. A lack of work experience building opportunities
  3. A lack of social capital to source opportunities

And that is the work that takes time, qualified staff and funded resources all of which are much more difficult to understand, lobby for or support than just taking the easy option of bashing careers advice for not giving out information.