Careers & Enterprise Company

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.

Employer Perspectives Survey 2016

Preparing young people for the world of work is a task that cannot be attempted without the world of work on board. By offering advice and guidance or by actually getting their hands dirty and offering provision for schools and young people to engage with, employers have a vital role to play. Which is why large-scale surveys on employer engagement with young people, their views on the skills capabilities of young people as potential employees and their participation in (supposedly) youth employment routes such as apprenticeships can offer valuable insights.

I’ve posted before to show that surveys of this kind can throw up a wide range of results and that the strategic goals of the organisation behind the survey should always be born in mind. Plenty of previous surveys with smaller survey cohorts have been critical of the level of skills held by school leavers entering the workplace while the survey that, traditionally, has shown results much more positive regarding skills levels has been the UKCES biennial Employer Perspectives survey. After the closure of UKCES, the responsibility of running this survey has transferred to the DfE with support from BEiS and DwP and the 2016 results were published this week. As ever, it’s fascinating in its picture of the UK skills map and how CEIAG is working within that. It’s also worth noting that the scale of the survey is impressive with over 18,000 employers across the UK interviewed.

Firstly, employers are still mainly pleased with the prepardness of young people for work but that, percentage rates have fallen slightly since 2014 but these figures are still much higher than the usual doom and gloom of other reports. It is also the case that, in the eyes of employers, older education leavers are still more preparded for the challenges of the workplace.

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It is in other sections of the report that there are some startling headline figures (page 13):

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The gap between employers expectation for young people to have work experience on their CV and those actually offering work experience placements is still huge. It’s also clear that the parts of the labour market most closely working with young people are those offering the most placements. As anybody who has run a work experience scheme in a school knows, placements are schools are easy to come by and colleagues will do their utmost to help while placements in more sort after industries are gold dust.

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For all of their initiatives such as Open Doors, the amount of placements offered by the Construction industry is woefully short of what is needed.

This picture of weak engagement is also apparent in the number of employers involved in work inspiration activities other than placements with, again, Construction a particularly poor performing area.

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It’s clear that getting involved with such provision is proving more difficult for smaller firms and reasons why employers do not offer placements was collected

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Being aware of these and the more positive reasons for offering placements (doing our bit, Corporate Social Responsibility policy, a recruitment strategy – page 70) and tailoring your approaches to employers when requesting placements should be a strategy for all schools and colleges.

Overall these figures are in stark contrast to the far more positive picture of employer engagement painted by employer bodies such as the CBI. Their assertion that “over 80% of employers work with schools”  is, frankly, risible in comparison and shows the task ahead of the Careers & Enterprise company when scaling up their engagement initiatives.

Elsewhere in the Survey findings are other nuggets of interest. At the time of writing, Apprenticeship policy in the UK is in a state of flux as the official position is still to create 3 million apprenticeships over the course of the parliament but the ongoing changes to Levy and Standards policy are causing fluctuations in the numbers of vacancies being advertised.

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The (slow) rise in the number of employers taking on apprentices is encouraging but this growth needs to accelerate if this route is to become a realistic competitor to Higher Education for young people. The future plans of employers (page 155), if enacted, would correlate to a rise of 21% of employers offering apprenticeships within the next 12 months but the Conclusions section states (from page 159) that a much greater engagement from employers with apprenticeships is needed to meet current targets.

Allied to this point is the data regarding the recruitment methods used by firms when hiring young people. The results are clear on the importance and of social capital and networks and the advantages gained by young people entering the job market with these benefits. Alongside more formal methods of applying for work, contacts can still be key and this evidence fits with published research in this area.

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It shows that, despite the scale of the task ahead of them, the work of the CEC is vital and needed. In Conclusion the Survey states (page 160)

Developing forms of work experience and work inspiration that genuinely respond to employers’ needs to develop and access experienced new recruits continues to offer potential as a step in improving individuals’ entry to the labour market

and it is the solution to this issue that the CEC must find.

The nudge, nudge future of CEIAG

One of the most substantial and thought-provoking pieces of work on Careers published in the last year was the Careers & Enterprise Company (CEC) commissioned report “Moments of Choice” which I looked at here.

The report was written by the Behavioural Insights Team and it gave the CEC plenty of conclusions on which to plan their own future work

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.

on how young people wanted to consume Careers IAG

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and how the CEC would go about trying to achieve that

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In the past weeks two projects have come to light which show the way that this future Careers IAG apparatus might work in practice.

First was another Insights Team piece of research which used a three year randomised controlled trial to find that sending letters of encouragement to high achieving young people in Year 12, “penned” by students from similar backgrounds, increased the number of applications and acceptances to Russell Group universities. This kind of cost-effective intervention (printing and posting some mail merge letters are a lot cheaper than Careers Advisers) can be highly targeted using not only GCSE attainment data but also parental income data now available.

This type of intervention is small-scale when compared to Careers choice help for all young people outlined by the CEC above but we can see how such interventions could be scalable yet still retain an element of personalisation to the message so desired by the young people themselves as well as using technology to more be responsive to users needs.

An example of how this type of personalised messaging system could be used to aid Careers decisions can found in another Behaviour Insights Team project called Promptable.

Aimed at FE students, Promptable uses text messages to text students and nominated “Study Supporters” weekly with reminders and prompt discussions about revision and tutor feedback in the build up to exams. The Team found that students who took part in the Promptable trials boosted their College attendance and exam performance.

Imagine a similar system designed for secondary school age young people and nominated “Supporters” discussing Careers choices at appropriate landmarks. Schools or Colleges ask students to sign up to the site, the school has uploaded their own timeline for PHSE or Careers lessons, for Key Stage 4 choices, for specific visits, talks or careers fairs, for Key Stage 5 choices, for Higher Education plans, links to CEIAG online resources etc etc and then the site sends prompting texts to students and “Supporters” to discuss these milestones or enable Supporters to remind students to attend events. As with Promptable, you could even have the student complete a short questionnaire on sign up outlining areas of interest which they can tailor by sending code texts back (“to out of messages about events please text EVENTS STOP back to this number”) which would also notify the Supporter so a discussion could be had (“actually I think it would be good if you did go to that Apprenticeship Information Evening”).

This kind of interaction fulfills all of the requirements of an easily accessible, horizon broadening intervention method that also encourages personalised face to face discussions. CEIAG event notification and student tracking systems are already on the market through products such as Grofar but this system has the added impetus (or nudge) method of the Supporter, known to the student and offering  chance for discussion. Some in the CEIAG community would ask where in this system does the CEIAG professional fit in? As the local architect of the educational establishment’s profile on the main website, the organiser of the provision, the record keeper of attendance and the option of face to face guidance as another method of provision to be offered to the student body but most of all, as the face of encouraging student sign up to the system would be my proposal.

Large scale systems face a balance between creating systems that work for the majority yet be flexible enough to impact the individual. The communication method of results of systems like Promptable and the targeted use of household data to tailor messages to young people such as the “Encouraging people into University” report could show the way on how this is feasible in CEIAG.

Knowing what CEIAG works: The #EEinETconf

It’s rare that I get out to large-scale conferences due to school commitments and cost but I was very fortunate last week to be able to attend the joint Edge Foundation & Education & Employers Taskforce International Conference on Employer Engagement in Education & Training. This was mostly due to the pricing of the early bird tickets for the two-day event which, frankly, put the cost of other big conferences in this area to shame.

For a careers geek like me, both days were full of superbly interesting stuff. Of course, the keynote sessions from the OECD’s Andreas Schleicher and Harvard’s Robert Schwartz took the biggest rooms but it was some of the breakout presentations that I found the most fascinating.

Previous research by the Education & Employers Taskforce has already helped shaped the current policy thinking in careers work in schools. Their use of longitudinal and survey data shows a consistent trend in the worth of employer interaction in a student’s future success (example 1 & example 2) in the labour market. The impact those wage gain headline figures can have on the views of policymakers has been obvious with the foundation of the Careers & Enterprise Company to help facilitate these kind of interactions. (In fact, a continuing theme across the Conference was the need for academics to present the headlines of their research in short, catchy bullet points for busy Ministerial eyes).

Two of the sessions in particular focused on summary type academic research projects, that is research which combines and compares findings from other studies. One of these was the launch of an International Literature Review on Careers Education by Deirdre Hughes and Dr Anthony Mann. I’ve blogged about this work previously.

The second session was an overview of work carried out by the team at the Education & Employers Taskforce looking at academic literature which “explores the relationship between adult economic outcomes and teenage school mediated work related experiences and attitudes.”

Some of the outcomes of the individual studies covered are fascinating in their own right

 

for the insight into the benefits students gain from the sort of provision school CEIAG practitioners are organising every term but it is in the collation and comparison of the outcomes found such as in these two pieces of work that real benefits will be found. The larger the number of studies collated and compared, the more obvious outliers will be and the more robust the findings for the beneficial outcomes of each type of CEIAG provision. As the Powerpoint from Mann, Kashefpakdel & McKeown says in the penultimate slide (and I hoped for in my previous post), this work should result in a toolkit for practitioners to use in the Autumn. At a time when budget holders are under increasing pressure to spend their scarce resources wisely, toolkits which clearly show “bang for your buck” that is, the expected outcomes for specific interventions (especially for more disadvantaged learners), are almost vital. Knowing what works is always beneficial for galvanising practitioners but being to show what works is extremely important for negotiating time and resources from budget holders to actually enact that provision.

The whole two-day conference was full of insights into different provision and approaches to employer engagement in education but it was these two presentations that showed just how close we are to quantifying the benefits to learners of each item on the school CEIAG menu.