Employer Engagement

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 logical failure of the 2017 CBI Education & Skills Survey

Like any membership lobbying organisation, the CBI support their members to make them look as good as possible and promote the greater value of and worth of business to society. They have their work cut out, surveys show that the general public is distrustful with less than half believing British businesses act ethically, so their annual survey of business leaders (The CBI/Pearson Education & Skills Survey) is a chance to shift the focus elsewhere.

The 2017 iteration is drawn from an online questionnaire completed by 344 employers. (It is worth comparing at the outset this methodology against other recent employer surveys such as the recent DfE Employer perspective survey (which I blogged on here) which was drawn from telephone interviews with over 18,000 establishments across the labour market including non-profit organisations but more on that later).

The scale of employer engagement in education is an important topic with the Careers & Enterprise Company (CEC) tasked with expanding this work to improve CEIAG provision and so prove the research evidence of the benefits to be gained for students. Future qualification and pathway policy is also heavily geared towards gaining employer buy in and engagement. This means that establishing a base point of employer engagement is vital in judging progress and knowing where to target resources. The CEC has already made progress in this area with their Cold Spots research. Using a range of data points and sources, this shows that outcomes for young people (much like HE progression and academic achievement rates) varies greatly across the different regions of the UK.

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One of the data points used to model the amount of employer engagement is the UKCES Employer Perspectives Survey 2014. This is the preceding biannual release of the DfE Employer Perspective Survey mentioned above before the closure of the UK Commission for Employment and Skills in March 2017 which the DfE then took over.

That the CEC is using this data on employer engagement and not information published by the CBI is the first hint that the two sources on employer engagement tell very different tales.

The CBI survey offers useful views on the value business leaders places on their required skills from school leavers

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plus their satisfaction on school leaver skill levels

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and a plea for more young people to be speakers of foreign languages (page 34). The Employer Perspectives survey meanwhile does not break down employer satisfaction with school leavers into skill areas but by age of recruits (fig 3.7) so comparisons are difficult but, at all ages, it found employers were more satisfied than dissatisfied with the skill levels of their young recruits.

The survey begins to raise eyebrows though with the claims of employer engagement with education including the number of firms that offer work experience. Let’s remind ourselves what the 2017 Employer Perspectives Survey reported,

  • That 65% of employers thought that relevant work experience is a critical or significant factor when taking on a recruit but only 38% of employers had offered a work experience opportunity in the past 12 months
  • There is a huge variation between the sectors that offer work experience (fig 3.9)
  • Only 10% of employers offered work inspiration activities to students

This differs drastically to the findings of the CBI Survey that 81% of employers had some links with education

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and that these links were “extensive in all parts of the UK.” Not only is this claim widely divergent with the finding from a methodologically more detailed and comprehensive survey, it also undermines the very basis on which the CEC has prioritised its work across the country. Regarding employer links with education, the CBI says there are no cold spots.

The differences continue in the value of work experience with only 23% of businesses reporting that relevant work experience is an “important” factor when recruiting a young person (fig 2.1 pictured above) which is well below the 65% of employers reporting similar in the Employer Perspectives Survey. There is also a lack of consistency of expectations in the CBI results with employers also stating that 54% were not satisfied with school leavers relevant work experience (fig 2.3 pictured above). Why would employers be unsatisfied with something they’ve also deemed not important to recruitment?

The data on the types of provision employers offer through their links with schools is couched in a presentational sleight of hand as the percentages are offered as percentages of those business who have education links, not a percentage of the total businesses. Thus

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So the CBI is not claiming that 81% of employers provide careers advice talks but that 81% of the 81% with links to education provide careers advice talks. Because we have the total numbers of employers the CBI received responses from (344) we can work this back – 81% of 344 = 279, 81% of 279 = 225, 225 divided by 344 = the CBI is actually reporting that 65% of employers offer careers advice talks. The Employer Perspectives Survey concluded that just 10% of employers offer careers inspirations activities including careers talks.

The differences between the two surveys continue when discussing work experience. The CBI concludes (using the same method above) that around 63% of employers offer work experience placements. The Employer Perspectives Survey reported 38% of employers offered placements and that differences between industries can be stark.

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The CBI survey also includes business views on both the work of the CEC and the current state of CEIAG provision. They find that the CEC still has plenty of scope to increase their connections with business as only 7% of respondents were engaged with the Company.

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That 79% businesses were unaware of the work of the CEC is not surprising when you also consider that only 28% of employers are aware of the new GCSE grading system.

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The CBI though are wholly positive about the need and remit of the CEC

The CBI fully supports their work which has a focus on practical, enabling solutions.

and

Underpinned by sufficient resources, the CEC should play a major role in England in
supporting schools and businesses to develop productive relationships to the benefit of young people.

but the views of the businesses surveyed are extremely negative about the quality of CEIAG provision

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84% of businesses reporting that Careers advice is not good enough is an overwhelming verdict but also similar percentage to the four previous survey results show in 3.16. The CBI goes strong on its verdict on current Careers provision

These are seriously troubling results. They highlight the urgent need for radical improvement.

This all adds up to a muddled picture offered by the CBI.

They and the employers they surveyed are claiming that 81% of business have links with schools across the country, 65% offer careers advice talks and 63% offer work experience placements. This equates to a large-scale engagement with education yet, it is these same employers from whom 79% had not heard of the work of the CEC. It is from these same employers that less than a third were aware of the introduction of whole new GCSEs and grading systems. The same employers who are engaged with education to offer huge amounts of careers provision but 84% of them also reported unsatisfaction with the Careers advice offered. The solution offered by the CBI to change these views? More engagement with education through the CEC.

Establishing hard quantitative data on employer engagement is not easy as previous studies have shown. Using only limited survey data though can mean results with the failures of logic shown above. The CBI cannot continue to claim that the majority of employers are playing their part in provision only to then be overwhelmingly critical of the scale, quality and outcomes of that provision.

Good practice in organising work experience placements

It’s easy to forget that, below the headline announcements and big speeches, Government departments are usually just chugging away with administrating policy, managing change and commissioning and learning (hopefully) from research. A recent (March 2017) 148 page research report by the NatCen Social Research and SQW was published by the DfE entitled “Work experience and related activities in schools and colleges” whose aim was “to consider current provision and operational practice of work-related activities at schools and colleges in England.” Which isn’t really what it does, for it only really focuses on work experience provision and pays scant regard to other kinds of employe engagement.

Based on the results of over 700 survey responses and 278 interviews (all conducted in the 2016 Summer term) the report paints a picture of what methods schools and employers make use of and which they struggle with when planning, sourcing and organising work experience placements. (The report covers this process in both schools and Further Education Colleges but it’s the work with Pre 16 students that I will concentrate on here) It is full of interesting data regarding participation of students and barriers some perceive to taking up placements, how schools prepare students for placements, quality control of those placements and evaluate the impact on students post placement.

This all results in is a good practice guide that can help practitioners to offer effective work experience schemes

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and a recommendation to the DfE

Despite widespread acceptance of the importance of work-related activities in preparing young people for the world of work, and some common agreement about what constituted good practice, it was noted that the absence of clear guidance from the Department for Education in relation to work-related learning pre-16, meant that it was not always prioritised (whether in the curriculum or in staffing). The absence of guidance was felt to be particularly impactful when governors/ senior leaders needed to be persuaded of the benefits of delivering a structured programme of work-related activities. Detailed guidance related to pre-16 provision, therefore, is to be welcomed

which, I would imagine, is a plea that would be welcomed by CEIAG practitioners in schools.

Throughout, the report is full of interesting titbits, some of which caught my eye were:

  • Funding constraints are restricting school work in this area

It was felt that, in order to support an expansion of work related activities at a time when school and college budgets were tight, additional (central) funding was required

  • Employers are keen for placements to be longer than one week
  • Work experience is still the most common form of employer engagement offered by schools at KS4

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  • 66% of respondents send students out on placements in the Summer term and 86% organise block placements rather than separate days.
  • The most popular reason for timing of placements is to fit around programmes of learning 55% which suggests schools are not being flexible to the needs of employers or learners when planning such provision.
  • 24% report that “not finding enough placements” is the largest reason for not all students accessing placements while “lack of confidence” (89%) and “fear of the unknown” (81%) where the biggest challenges to students taking up placements which shows how important the personal support practitioners offer their students in the build up to placements is.
  • That some sectors of employment are clearly failing to find ways to offer enough placements to meet demand as schools report common difficulties (% of respondents reporting employment sectors where it was difficult to find placements)

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  • That concerns around health and safety and insurance are still holding employers back from offering placements
  • That schools are working with a range of organisations to help source placements

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(although note the low % working with Enterprise Advisers through the Careers & Enterprise Company is likely due to the Summer 2016 date of the survey when the organisation was much newer)

  • That far too few schools spend any time following up with employers post placements to provide feedback or assess how the placement went (% of schools who undertook follow activities with employers)

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The report also looks at the rationale and reasoning for running a work experience scheme in the first place and it is cheering to see the range of impacts and employers that schools believe such provision can have on young people, which makes the practical barriers that do exist when organising KS4 placements all the more frustrating.

How companies can help with social mobility

Themes rise and fall in education news land. Recently the topic of social mobility has risen to the top of the education news wave leaving stories of shrinking school budgets, degree grade inflation and the lack of support for pupils mental well-being sinking to the bottom.

Ahead of the curve was the Sutton Trust who released a report co-authored with the All Party Parliamentary Group on Social Mobility entitled “The class ceiling: Increasing access to the leading professions” which laid bare (again, after previous work from the Social Mobility Commission) the static nature of social mobility in the UK. We are a nation where the privilege and wealth of your parents directly dictates the privilege and wealth you will enjoy.

Much of the subsequent press follow up concerned itself with the recruitment practices of employers that favour young people from well off backgrounds such as unpaid internships while the report took a bigger picture view of the wider education & employment system.

CEIAG and recent careers policy got lots of attention with a careful eye laid on the progress of the Careers & Enterprise Company

and plenty of stakeholder opinion on the quality of careers advice in schools. Much of the state of careers commentary is echoes of all that has gone before so it was the sections which looked at what steps business could take to change the situation which I found interesting.

  1. The use of Contextualized recruitment by firms such as Deloitte places an applicant’s academic achievement in the context of the institution and wider community in which they achieved this.
  2. The move away from traditional academic routes into the professions and toward new, work based schemes even in professional areas such as Law. CILex the example given.
  3. Open competition for young people to apply to work experience placements so not to insulate benefits seen by friends and families of employees. I’ve linked on this blog before on the general lack of work experience opportunities offered by business.
  4. To be involved in Mentoring programmes, which will give much power to the Careers & Enterprise Company’s new scheme.
  5. Local targeting of deprived areas and schools with the work of the companies on the Government’s Social Mobility Compact (no, I’d never heard of it either) praised for their work with (mostly) London schools
  6. Unconscious bias training to aid impartiality in recruitment although the example of practice given in the report is from the Civil Service so, as it’s not private sector, I don’t really think it should count here.
  7. The collection and publication of data on the socio-economic backgrounds of employees with the data collected by the Solicitors Regulation Authority given as an example.

These are all praiseworthy and socially responsible efforts by the private sector to, in small ways, stick an oar of movement into the static pool of social mobility in the UK.

Reading this report coincided for me in the same week as seeing a presentation on an EY summer work experience summer scheme called “Smart Futures.” A paid work experience scheme for Year 12 students, this is a fantastic opportunity that would excite many young people. EY though, are aiming the programme at pupils who have been

Eligible for free school meals at some point in the past six years

which is an altruistic and well intentioned clause but, as many of the other schemes and ideas mentioned above also do, it fails to take into account a hard reality of the educational progress and attainment of disadvantaged students by the time they reach this age.

In 15/16 43% of disadvantaged pupils gained A-C’s in GCSE English & Maths compared to 70% of all other pupils while 37% of disadvantaged pupils achieved 5 A-C’s compared to 65% of all other pupils.

At Key Stage 2, 39% of disadvantaged pupils reach the expected standard in reading, writing and maths while 60% of other pupils do.

In fact, disadvantaged pupils are already 8 months of learning behind their peers when they start school.

To tackle this, companies that truly wish to make an impact on social mobility should step away from their own comfort zones and deal with very young people and families in settings perhaps they have not so far ventured into. The Smart Futures programme is delivered through EY’s charitable arm The EY Foundation. It would require strong leadership but, ultimately, a bigger structural impact on their investment would be found from, for example, offering small scale, localised provisions to fill the gaps that the closures to large numbers of Sure Start and children’s centres is leaving.

 

16/17 KS4 leavers and apprenticeship schemes

Now that we are a way into the 2016/2017 academic calendar it is a good time to look at a huge test for how the worlds of education and business interact over the coming months.

This academic years Key Stage 4 leavers will be the first to receive their GCSE grades in English Language, English Literature and Maths in the new grading system of 9 – 1. How this compares to the historic A-G grading system is show below

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As the description says, this means that 16/17 leavers will receive a mixture of 9-1 and A-G grades from their GCSE qualifications. Students may also be taking Btec L2s (which report as Distinction, Merit, Pass) and other qualifications such as the much maligned ECDL so will also have different grading schemes in their set of results.

So, a student opening their results envelop in August 2017 might see something like this (from this Ofqual PP):

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This will continue for 17/18 leavers as more GCSEs such as Art, the Sciences, Drama & Geography are accredited in the new manner and then into 18/19 as subjects such as Sociology, D&T & Engineering join them.

The wider impact of these changes throughout the systems of education and employment dependent on understanding the context of those grade indicators could be messy. Getting the message through about the changes to students and their parents is a challenge in itself and one which Ofqual has been keen to gain help from schools but the bigger challenge remains of explaining this to employers. Hints at the scale of the communication challenge can be found in the employer response to the forthcoming apprenticeship levy

If a new funding system that will directly impact a company’s bottom line and their immediate training pipeline is struggling to gain widespread understanding then a seemingly (to those outside education) superficial change to GCSE grading is a difficult concept to gain traction. As anybody working in careers in schools will attest, many speakers from employers still come into school and wish the students good luck in their “O Levels.”

This lack of understanding has immediate impacts. Over the past few and forthcoming weeks many of the school leaver and apprenticeship schemes from larger employers will begin to be advertised for September 2017 starts.

The Airbus Group Engineering Apprenticeships, the Glaxo SmithKline Engineering Apprenticehips and the Manufacturing Apprenticeship at Selex Leonardo are all open for applications at the time of writing (November 2017). All three schemes are for September or Summer 2017 starts, all three are open to applicants who will be leaving Key Stage 4 in summer 2017 and all 3 ask for A-C GCSE requirements.

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Not a mention of 9-1 grades. Yet many of the opportunities at larger employer require applicants to apply via the employers own website where, on the GSK site, the 9-1 scale is mentioned:

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These are just a few examples of the many schemes that will be opened to 16/17 leavers over the next few months. It may add complexity but HR managers need to be including the new grading system in their job descriptions and adverts to smooth applications from younger students. Otherwise mixed messages and the inflexibility of drop down menus on online applications holds potential to discourage and confuse 16/17 leavers and parents from engaging with apprenticeship routes.

In recent years, business organisations have successfully positioned business as a sphere that is keen to engage with education, dissatisfied with the current skills on offer from young workers and with the ability to rapidly react to change. Publications such as the annual CBI Education & Skills survey place the emphasis on what business requires from education. Well, over this application season building up to the summer results, education needs a rapid and clear response from business.

 

 

Moments of choice

The emergence of evidence led research to direct careers policy in recent years has been a welcome branch of a wider evidence led trend across educational policy making. Using longitudinal data to not only show that employer faced careers interventions have positive outcomes but also to pinpoint the wage premium value these type of interventions have had has been a hugely persuasive headline for policy makers.

Keen to show that they are fulfilling one of their briefs to “show what works,” the Careers & Enterprise Company recently released a research paper “Moments of Choice – How education outcomes data can better support informed career decisions”. The document is based on two pieces of research: 1) an 84 page commissioned report also called “Moments of Choice” by the Behavioural Insights Team and 2) a piece of work by PricewaterhouseCoopers which looked at the current landscape of careers information providers.

The work of the Behavioural Insights Team is fascinating as it mixes psychology, sociology and economics to enable the state (or now that it is a standalone company, any paying client) to get the reaction from the public they desire. When the Department of Health wanted more people to join the organ donor list or HMRC wanted more people to pay their taxes on time, it was the Behavioural Insights Team they called. The potential overlap of Behavioural Economics and nudge theory to the student CEIAG process in schools is obvious and the scope for young people to make decisions and choices that are more informed and considered is huge.

The Insights Team research is based on a small number of interviews with young people and career professionals and a number of round-table events attended by a range of stakeholders. I attended one of those round-tables and noted at the time just what a task the Team had undertaken

and, looking back, it was stark just how misunderstood the event was by the stakeholders attending. The aim of looking at all of the influencing elements of career choice was too nebulous a concept for many to engage with or too wide for those only attending to reinstate their patch.

This complexity extends into the source research report but essentially outlines the following:

  • That, for each young person, a huge variety of contextual factors play differing roles in shaping their views on their careers possibilities. Parents, socio-economic background, peers, media and social media and other trusted adults can all play some part in a young person constructing a flight path and dismissing non desirable destinations
  • That the sheer number of possible options open to young people leads to a wealth of information across multitudes of providers. This wildly confusing landscape causes young people to retract and be hesitant to engage and prefer to stick to well trodden paths. They struggle to find information that they think will aid their decisions and find the information impersonal and hard to contextualize to their own lives.

Throughout the document popular behavioral psychology writers such as Daniel Kahneman are referenced (and the work in his book “Thinking, Fast & Slow” on decision bias and different judgement systems is very pertinent) but it was the work of Barry Schwartz that sprung to my mind.

Who theorizes that

  • A choice architecture system with many options to choose from can cause paralysis especially when the choices have been built up to be ‘important’
  • And that, the variety of choice leads the individual to believe that there must a choice that is a perfect fit for them. When the choice disappoints, the dissatisfaction for the individual is greater as they curse their (or the advice frameworks) inability to find the ‘correct’ choice for them (Which many would agree is consistent with the stereotypical adult reflection on past careers interventions).

To my mind though, it is noticeable that some elements you would expect at least a passing reference to are missing from the Insights Team report. When looking at how young people engage with career decisions, it is odd that any reference to the wealth of publications on career theory is absent. As anyone who has waded through Unit 3 of the Level 6 careers qualification will attest, plenty has been written on careers theory. Perhaps this decision was taken as the report only focuses on a specific age section of the employability journey while career theory can take a more holistic approach. Even then though, there is much the Team could have taken from Holland (1997), the importance Super’s (1953) Life Span theory places on “self concept shaped by feedback by the external world” or Gottfredon’s (1981) theory of Circumscription and Compromise considering the Career Enterprise Company’s overall aim of improving social mobility. There is also the disregard for the kind of career trajectory that Krumboltz’s Happenstance theory outlines. For a report whose aim is to outline an architecture that places the choices of individual as the author in control of their story, it is perhaps understandable but still striking to omit a theory which proposes that it is not even desirable for this to be the case.

There is also the lack of reference to the psychology of habit. Career decisions are not taken by individuals as single events in a vacuum. The habit loops of an individual will already be affecting their engagement with education and possible adult influencers well before career choices are tasked to be made. The work of Charles Duhigg and the concept of feedback loops

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could have added value and helped place the behavioral psychology of choice into the wider context of a young person’s experience and how to positively interject into this.

Published simultaneously was the response to the research by the Careers & Enterprise Company which contains proposed actions such as disseminating further research and data such as longitudinal earnings figures to help individuals make more informed decisions. They also propose to convene an experts group to spread ‘advice’ statements on what works. The Company also sees a remit for itself in communicating advice to schools and CEIAG practitioners,

We will highlight key messages, alerting schools and colleges to the types of conversations that young people should be having and when they should be having them; the types of information they should consider in those conversations; the mistakes that young people typically make and, perhaps most importantly of all, the things that they do not need to worry about.

but that it

does not intend to provide individual advice to young people or create information tools designed to produce individualised recommendations. Our focus will be solely on high level advice i.e. advice that is true for large numbers of people.

This is slightly ironic considering the preceding thoughtful passages on ‘choice architecture’,

Personalisation is central to the creation of good choice architecture in complex scenarios. Personalisation means the degree to which the construction of choice sets and information sets is determined by what is known about an individual. Zero personalisation occurs when everybody has access to the same information and has to identify what is relevant to them. Weak personalisation occurs when information sets are created which are relevant to very large numbers of ‘average’ people – for example when information about career choices tells you about the average for a whole population of people entering into a particular career.

Which covers the nub of a paradox in the current UK Careers structure for young people. Distilling advice on the choices of individuals managing a trajectory through a hugely complex system such as the transition through education to work and beyond into career will only result in impersonal generalised statements. The report discusses the possibility of careers personalisation for young people being delivered by websites programmed with similar algorithmic processes to Amazon recommends. It acknowledges though that the bulk of responsibility of personalisation comes from the interactions with professionals involved in the day by day careers conversations, group work, trips and lessons designed to aid those young individuals. It is that very part of the process which, for all its strategic work with Enterprise Advisers and cold spot funding, the Company will remain at arm’s length from.

The tightrope of generalisation is even there, tripping up the Company in the Executive Summary

However, we can identify choices as ‘poor’ if, on clearly defined criteria such as ‘likelihood to increase earnings’, an individual has made a choice on a misconception

which fails to acknowledge that a misconception does not automatically lead to failure. A learner could choose a course on false information, love that course, be nourished by meeting like-minded people on that course and find happy, fulfilling work in the course area after graduating. A choice based on ‘wrong’ information can still turn out ‘right’: it’s a complex world and, as with general medical advice, there are always exceptions to the rule.

All of the strands of the Careers & Enterprise Company’s work can drive engagement between young people (and parents) and exploring careers decisions; bringing businesses into schools can illuminate job roles, publishing earnings data can lead to greatly informed decisions, sign posting ‘approved’ advice and notifying important calendar times can all help clear the fog of the unknown. It is though, the balances to strike between acknowledging complexity and simplification, between generalisation and personalisation and good advice and diktat that the Careers Company will have to find to succeed.

Hat tip to Tristram’s blog for bringing this report to my attention.