LMI

Degree Apprenticeships: The balance of promotion vs opportunity

A often repeated recommendation in lots of reports in the education policy sphere is to improve the Careers advice on offer to young people as authors conclude that this would have beneficial outcomes for the focus of their research. Sometimes these pleas have merit but sometimes they feel to me that the authors are reaching for a scapegoat to direct attention from more relevant failings elsewhere in the system. A recent example of this can be found in this report on degree apprenticeships from Universities UK.

The report reaches a number of sensible conclusions on the worth of degree apprenticeships to the economy and the skills pipeline but also on how to grow and promote the route. The CEIAG related recommendations are that

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Which, on the face of it, is a recommendation (alongside the wider belief of the report that degree apprenticeships are extremely valuable routes) that I’m sure much of the Careers community would agree with. Investment in the system is certainly towards the top of the concerns of Career Leaders who are tasked by law to provide information on the variety of routes open to school leavers. What intrigued me though is the assertion that a “fit for purpose” CEIAG system dedicate equal time to degree apprenticeships considering the current data on opportunity and that this would increase their numbers

The report includes some survey data that highlights the distance to travel with improving the knowledge of students about degree apprenticeships.

universities report 4

(which includes a mistake in the height of the “I know everything/ a lot” response bar for eligibility requirements) but that still shows roughly a quarter of students believe themselves to be knowledgeable about the route. We also know from other survey sources that over half of students are now receiving information about apprenticeships but some of this isn’t then getting through to parents.

apprenticeships survey1

Which, even at roughly a quarter of students, equals a lot of young people being told about degree apprenticeships. There is a lot more to dig into here around the weighing of positive vs negative messaging that pupils are receiving about apprenticeships. The report includes concerns aired by parents about the route

Parents, in particular, expressed the anxiety, in focus groups, that degree apprenticeships are a cheap form of labour and exploitation of young people. They raised concerns about the quality of the learning provision and the kinds of skills and knowledge that students would gain through these apprenticeships, often  voicing the belief that these would be narrowly and mechanistically focused on the needs of the employer, rather than advantaging the learner.

but, surprisingly to me, no concerns over the numbers of opportunities actually accessible to their children.

18 year old population

In 2017 there were 766,000 18 year olds in the UK with the ONS forcasting numbers to fall until 2020 when the population bump will cause them to rise. As 18 year olds are the youngest cohort to be able to apply for degree apprenticeships, Universities UK are roughly saying that 191,500 students come into the labour market potentially informed about degree apprenticeships as a route.

From a labour market intelligence standpoint this is a huge mismatch between demand and opportunity. Degree apprenticeships (Level 6) are a relatively new route in the labour market

apprenticeship starts1

but a route that is growing in starts year on year. The report says

the number of degree apprenticeship starts has increased, from 1,614 in 2016–17 to 7,114 in the first four months of 2018/19 (IfATE, 2019). The top five degree apprenticeship standards are Chartered Manager, Digital and Technology Solutions Professional, Senior Leader, Chartered Surveyor and Registered Nurse, and the range of degree apprenticeships increased from 11 in 2016–17 to 32 currently.

Those 7,114 degree apprenticeship opportunities is still tiny in number though compared to the number of 18 year olds entering the post Level 3 labour market as shown above. The previous qualification levels of that cohort should not be a barrier to applying for degree apprenticeships as over 275,000 of them are applying for University courses.

Even then the 7,114 number is a false figure as many degree apprenticeships are currently taken by older learners

newplot

and the growth in degree apprenticeships is being driven by firms enrolling older workers onto these schemes.

82 per cent more people aged 25 and over doing higher-level apprenticeships at levels 4 and above, according to FE Week analysis.

Meanwhile, starts at level 2 have plummeted by 51 per cent and starts by 16- to 18-year-olds have dropped by 23 per cent since the year before the apprenticeship reforms were introduced in May 2017.

In that time, starts by those aged 25 and above at levels 4 upwards increased by 69 per cent.

There is, as far as I know, no publicly available data on how many degree apprenticeship starts are new hires from an advertised vacancy. Many, including some highlighted in the Universities UK report are not new jobs but training opportunities for already hired employees.

On one nursing degree apprenticeship programme, delivered in a collaboration between the University of Sunderland and four NHS trusts, all 64 of the degree apprentices are currently healthcare assistants working within the trusts

Other examples include

This even further reduces the number of available opportunities actually open for young school leavers to apply to. The Universities UK report is silent on how the expansion in careers learning dedicated to degree apprenticeships should tackle the issue of those opportunities being the third, fourth or even fifth steps in a school leavers progression.

There is a balance to be found in raising awareness and promotion of a route with the labour market intelligence of that route actually being obtainable to your audience. Even when opportunity is scarce, LMI does not have to be a negative influencer but a motivator to inspire clients on the steps to take but at some point those wishing to promote degree apprenticeships are going to have to acknowledge that a) overly positive framing can result in negative perceptions as many young people will this exciting route far too difficult to obtain and b) there are other routes in that market that appeal to clients and so deserve the focus of careers learning exactly because of their widespread opportunity.

Careers apps

Back in December 2018, the DfE announced two winners of a £300,000 funding pot open for digital IAG tools that would help young people make more informed choices about their University choice both in regard to provider and subject. Now, in April 2019, both of the tools have launched.

Offering IAG through digital platforms to young people has a mixed track record (we’ll always have the memory of Plotr) but practitioners know they can be a fundamental resource to use with your client base.

The two apps take different approaches to how they inform and advise their users with the Higher Education data now available. It’s worth saying that both platforms are (at the time of writing) still in beta testing so improvements in design, layout and usability will be ongoing and any judgments should be made with that in mind. The first app, ThinkUni is described as a “personalised digital assistant’ bringing together data on universities, courses and financial outcomes that are easy to explore and compare” and is from a team that has a good track record in offering social mobility enhancing schemes through the Brilliant Club. The current site looks fairly basic with text drop down boxes asking users on their preferences on University study (city or campus, course reputation or earnings outcomes etc).

think uni1On first impressions, I found there isn’t much to be impressed with here. The very first question assumes that the user knows what subject they want to study so relies on a baseline that simply isn’t there for a lot of young people and then site assumes that the user will be studying A Levels so widening participation also doesn’t seem to be a concern (I’m sure that other Level 3 qualifications will be incorporated into the site at some point but soft launching without them isn’t a good look). The “digital assistant” selling point is also over played with the course suggestion results being much the same as would result from a search using advanced filters on the UCAS search facility. If the user already knows their views on subject, location, course type etc. to input, then why not just go or be directed to the source site? Currently, the “assistant” part of ThinkUni seems extremely inactive.

The other competition winner comes from The Profs, a team who have previously built a Professional Tutor finding platform, and is a much more interactive looking experience. “The Way Up” games tasks users to pick an avatar and make choices on learning and earning routes at each step of their journey.

way up game1This approach develops a greater sense of ownership in the process and the results as the user is able to modify the route to reflect their own interests while still following the linear structure of the game. The interface isn’t the most aesthetically astounding you’ll see and I also thought that some of the presented LMI was easy to miss on-screen but, once you notice it, the format does incorporate a significant amount of LMI data into each stage. I also think that the biggest learning gain for young people using the platform might not be regarding their career choice or route but the realistic balance to be found when budgeting monthly in-comings and outgoings.

As a format for simulated learning, turn based, point and click games were also used back in the days of late 2000s Aimhigher University visits when one of the regular activities was a web-based game that allowed secondary school students to take control of a new University student avatar and make choices for their study, work and social life. The implications of those choices displayed in a character health chart which valued balance above partying too hard or studying too much. The user was able to see the realistic choices on offer and the consequences of those choices and reflect on how they would react in that possible environment. So the format isn’t new but the inclusion of the LMI and HE data is.

The “Way Up Game” is designed to have the widest possible capture point so that it includes career routes and choice options for lots of young people. At the more specific and detailed end of the simulation market, flight and even truck driving simulations are PC games that can require high level computers to run with the amount of detail their fan base demands while still offering career learning opportunities. More accessible versions of this format can be found in sector skills funded apps such as Construction Manager from the CiTB. Allowing users to take charge of a construction business, hire employees, pitch for contracts and then take on those jobs all presented within a SIMS type graphical interface make for an engaging career learning experience. Place these alongside digital diagnostic tools and digital communication tool there is a rich variety of online CEIAG resource.

Research

Research evidence on the value of digital and online IAG experiences offers some guidance to both of the creative teams on what could help their products have the impact they are looking for with users.

Two excellent summaries of research in this area are the CEC What Works edition: “Careers Websites” and this recent webinar from Tristram Hooley “Approaches to online guidance”

Neither of the two apps offer any links to expanding social networks or sharing results so building users social capital does not seem to be on the agenda.

The CEC document references research from Dunwall et al (2014) which evaluated the MeTycoon careers game and found that

87% of participants said playing the game had given them new career ideas and 66% said they had shared or discussed the game with friends.

The format of “The Way Up Game” more closely matches MeTycoon so those developers will be hoping for that level of impact with their users. The ThinkUni platform perhaps gains research backing with its slight nod towards the user involving CEIAG professionals in the findings from using the site. The CEC summary states:

The use of careers websites should be integrated into schools’ careers education provision, and may be more effective for pupils when use, at least initially, is mediated and supported by careers and education professionals.

Once the user has contemplated their suggestions, the final screen ThinkUni suggests

think uni assistant1

This is only a very slight prompt though. The user is not asked, for example, if they wish to email their results to a named individual which could be a CEIAG professional or school tutor so perhaps both developers would benefit from designing accompanying session plans that could enable teachers/CEIAG practitioners to use the apps in group sessions and build upon the learning experiences of the young people in the room. A further step could even be to incorporate “nudge” techniques by communicating to both user and professional so conversations could occur to see if further research tasks have been undertaken by the user. Neither of the platforms require the involvement of CEIAG professionals in the learning journey of the user.

This failure to build in involvement of practitioners places both of the apps well behind more detailed digital offers such as Start Profile. This program combines both personalisation lead by the user lead and exploration of career routes with LMI drawn from LMI for all and the ability for practitioner oversight and involvement. As this ICEGS evaluation of Start concludes

Start builds on much of what the existing evidence base tells us about the efficacy of online products. It brings together information and advice for a young person and allows them to personalise their learning journey. It offers a blended learning technology in which the school can connect the online learning to classroom based career learning. It builds on longstanding career assessment practices by building a personal profile of work preferences, qualities, skills and interests and using this to match users to jobs and learning opportunities based on their suitability and how available those jobs are in the labour market.

Differences do remain though between Start Profile and these two new apps in their data sources. LMI for All utilises a range of sources (detailed on page 10 here) but they (and so Start Profile) do not seem to include data from the Office for Students on HE access, continuation, attainment and progression.

By side-stepping CEIAG professionals both apps purely user focussed offers but this could still offer positive impact. The CEC Moments of Choice research concluded that young people desire the presentation of careers data that:

moments choice1

and it would be fair to conclude that both apps achieve at least 7 of those requirements to varying degrees. Young people can access the data in a method that is convient to them, when they require it, be safe in the knowledge that it is using reliable sources, receive suggested future actions and be able to personalise it. Only the involvment of influencers is missing.

International comparisons

These formats for offering HE focused CEIAG learning are also available in other countries. For example, Australia has Campus Quest which offers users two games, Campus Quest based on a student attending a University campus and E-Study Quest based on a student studying from home.

The graphical interface is slightly more interesting than both of the new UK apps but in particular the 3D presentation is more eye-catching than “The Way Up” game.

Value

For the DfE to offer funding, policy holders must hope that any resulting resources will add value to the marketplace of existing CEIAG digital products either through successfully filing a niche or building upon existing products. For me, currently the two apps (still at testing stage remember) do neither and they also choose to set aside a proportion of the research in this area. It may be more politically satisfying for the DfE to achieve a new CEIAG platform through this process but questions should be asked whether a more worthy platform could have been achieved through the adaption of existing products and how any resulting products are able to fit into, adapt and shape for the positive the current CEIAG landscape supporting young people.

Careers Advice for an unpredictable AI future

All Careers practitioners know that a portion of their professional skills toolbox should be dedicated to gaining an understanding of the future labour market and the winds of change that are likely to shape that market.

For years, Careers Advisers and the wider education system have been accused of practicing their roles with a lack of regard of the skill demands of the business world that young people will enter into. In recent years, curriculum’s have been rewritten, qualification routes come and gone and entire new types of schools founded all with the aim of aligning education to be closer to the labour market.

Careers practitioners know the barometer for the requirements of this word of work that is forever in the future is known as Labour Market Intelligence (LMI). Through the data of job growth and decline in regions, in industry areas and at qualification entry points, the future demand for certain skills, qualifications or numbers of workers can be predicted.

This data isn’t always easily obtainable or decipherable for the (young) members of the public who it would benefit so it falls to Careers practitioners to be the translator and broadcasters of these resources. Sites such as Nomis, services such as LMI for All and local resources such as LEPs offer the data and practitioners determine when to use it, how to use it and what messages to amplify. We rely on the clearness of the message. If the data says that manufacturing jobs are not likely to grow in the north of England, then we paint a clear picture of the challenge facing a young person wanting to work in that area. If our local LEP is clear on the growth prospects of the nearby airport, then we work hard to get to those employers in contact with our young people to shape their employment prospects view.

Facing the Careers profession today though is a very muddled picture of what is surely the most fundamental disruption of the labour market in the next five to ten years; the growth of artificial intelligence, robotics and automation across a wide swathe of workplaces.

For some, T2 is just a skull crushing step away

On the one hand, the prophecies of doom make for more arresting headlines and grab the attention.

These predictions build likely or probable scenarios onto small-scale tests of technology

Consider: Last October, an Uber trucking subsidiary named Otto delivered 2,000 cases of Budweiser 120 miles from Fort Collins, Colorado, to Colorado Springs—without a driver at the wheel. Within a few years, this technology will go from prototype to full production, and that means millions of truck drivers will be out of a job.

to extrapolate out disaster scenarios.

That isn’t to say that they don’t consult expert opinion but the futurists they do consult are unwavering in their belief in the progress of AI.

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And these experts, such as Max Tegmark, MIT Professor, or Martin Ford, author of Rise of the Robots, are explicit in their advice that, not only should society and the State start preparing for the consequences of AI (through policies such as Universal Basic Income) but that children should be receiving advice on this future work space now.

For others, AI will complement people skills

Other studies are reaching similar conclusions that automation and AI will fill the labour market in roles requiring logic, process or repetition but that it will be the very human skills of community building and socialisation that will still lead to in-demand employment.

Research by David Deming, a professor of education and economics at the Graduate School of Education and a professor of education and public policy at the Kennedy School, shows that workers who combine social and technical skills fare best in the modern economy

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And that, educators and advisers, should be nurturing the skills of change management, teamwork and project work in their students to prepare them to succeed in this labour market.

Other skills such as literacy or numeracy (which the current UK education system places heavy emphasis on) are also ones which will computers will (and already do) outperform humans.

Almost a third of workers use these cognitive skills daily in their jobs and yet their competency levels have already been matched by computers. About 44 per cent are still better than the machines. The remaining 25 per cent have jobs that do not use these skills every day.

This is not to say that low skilled jobs will completely vanish but that even those workers will need to build their human skills to be able to work alongside technology

Research by Richard Blundell, an economics professor at University College London, suggests the low-skilled tend to fare better in big companies that invest heavily in research and development. They have higher wages than other low-skilled workers and tend to stay with their employers for longer.

This collaborative ideal is still a fundamental change in the labour market due to the numbers of low skilled roles that will be affected. The question remains on the scope of this new market to soak up the displaced and provide employment at the levels we see today.

And that Governments should act upon the things they can control. If the capital and resources gained by technological progress is more fairly redistributed by the State, then the offsetting factors of commercial expansion and growth would provide new employment opportunities elsewhere in the labour market. The pool of employment opportunities would change shape but not drastically shrink.

In this scenario, Careers Advice becomes a sign poster of the future jobs such as Drone Traffic Controller or Augmented Reality Designer.

And for some, AI won’t make much of a difference at all

Here, the faith is placed in the churn of technological progress and investment in new areas of business to bring new jobs to replace those lost to automation. Economies with high levels of automation such as Germany and Japan have strong job growth. The percentage of people in full-time work in the USA and the UK is growing steadily. In short, there just isn’t any evidence that AI is effecting the jobs market.

How can the CEIAG profession react

In a recent post, Professor Tristram Hooley covered much of the same ground in this post and suggested that, due to this uncertainty between competing visions of the future labour market, advice could be offered across three frameworks:

  1. Adaptive Guidance – Preparation for change
  2. Expanded Career Guidance – broaden concepts of meaningful work
  3. Emancipatory Guidance – encourage realisation of and challenge of the system

and that a possible curriculum

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would plan opportunities for clients to grow these capabilities.

Which is all work Advisers would be happy to cover and would provide clients with enriching learning experiences but what strikes me is the fact that the profession is tasked with preparing for this wide range of eventualities. The lack of clarity from both Governments and Business voices on the shape of the future labour market is unhelpful. The Business lobby is not shy on coming forward with the skill demands they place on education and CEIAG to meet more definitive labour market needs. Whether looking at the strategic needs of nation economies or drilling down to an oversupply of graduates from a particular vocational area, Business leaders are clear on what they require from education. For such a large disruption potential to employment, the lack of clarity on what we should actually be expecting is noticeable. The type of preparation work outlined by Professor Hooley would be much better served alongside as clear guidance from business leaders on what will likely be the reality of the impact of AI and automation on the labour market.

A Journey into LMI lesson plans

Being sent out to schools at the moment are the lesson plans below. “A Journey into LMI” are lesson plans from the National Careers Service and are part of the Service’s remit to engage with younger learners. Back in October 2014 Nick Boles announced that all National Careers Service contracts were being amended to include a 5% spend on young people. Whether through online resources meant to engage directly young people or through resources for teachers and advisers to use, these are some of the results of that funding.

As part of a wider drive to improve the awareness of labour market intelligence, the site also has an LMI area map and each LEP area should be sending out an LMI newsletter. The sign up for the update for my own area (SEMLEP) is here.

My local contract holder has also trailed the possibility of some actual activities happening but, by the time the representative came to talk to school careers advisers in my town, we were told the funding pot for these activities had already been exhausted.

Another tool for the toolbox: #LMI for All – Employment Demand in 2020 site

If there’s one thing last academic year taught me, it’s to have a well organised website favorites bar when speaking to young people about their future course choices and career plans. Whether it’s researching Colleges in Canada or the job prospects for being an extreme sports instructor, you never know what individual route the conversation is going to cover.

Another site has launched recently that I will definitely be added to my armoury. The FE sector research and marketing body, RCU, has utilised recently released UKCES LMI data to create a webtool that clearly shows  the skills and employment prospects of many career areas in 2020. On one page you can clearly see how the demand for an occupational area is predicted to grow or shrink in the coming years and also find valuable info about current pay, demand across the country and qualification levels.

http://rcultd.co.uk/wf/

This is the first site I’ve seen that uses the UKCES data and, as such, certainly isn’t perfect for use with teenagers and wouldn’t be suitable for every session but I can foresee myself using it with some students to challenge some of their preordained views of certain career areas.

LMI isn’t a short cut to crushing dreams

Labour Market Intelligence has always been a strange beast for people who deliver IAG to wrestle with. At what point during a client’s impassioned description of how the cash will soon be rolling in from the Youtube views of his stop motion animation videos (actual example) should you raise your hand, clear your throat and kick down the door of this (sometimes scarily) well thought out vision to let in the cold light of reality?

An article in SecEd this week called “Is University the best preparation for the future?” by the Head of an independent girls school bemoaned that this conversation doesn’t happen often enough and we need to stop the treadmill of students into HE courses which do not lead to employment.

http://www.sec-ed.co.uk/blog/is-university-the-best-preparation-for-the-future/

She recounts listening to a radio program about 3 recent graduates in who were all struggling to find employment in their chosen fields of study.

A recent radio programme focused on the efforts to find employment of three out of work young people. One had a degree in journalism with media and cultural studies, another a degree in drama in the community, and the third had a diploma in ocean science. All had very specialised qualifications, which appeared to relate to specific jobs and careers, but their courses were so specialised that they may actually have closed doors, not opened them.

Most news organisations recruit students with high-quality degrees in subjects such as English or history and politics, augmented by a post-graduate journalism course. Arts in the community have been badly affected by spending cuts and many organisations are now staffed by volunteers. And a diploma in ocean science does not carry the kudos of a science degree. These young people had applied for huge numbers of jobs without success; all were working as volunteers in some capacity, but growing increasingly disheartened. One wonders what careers advice or guidance they had received

It’s that last sentence which crystallizes a lot of recent comment about LMI and it’s use with learners trying to pick their way through the ever complex array of routes out of education and into employment. This expectation is that, if those students had heard the right advice and been made aware of the prevailing winds of the job market, they would never have chosen those HE courses and never have have dared to dream the dream of working in journalism or studying the wet stuff that covers 70% of the planet.

But I think that’s a misleading assumption of what LMI could do and the role it can play in guidance.

It doesn’t have to be a roadblock. It doesn’t have to be a dissuasive element to certain career areas. It doesn’t have to be the end of an aspiration.

It can be the ignition for a new possibility. It can be a door opener for a new direction but it also can be, for those careers mentioned above on that radio show and many like them whose future employment numbers will be decreasing, a clear indicator of the barriers that will have to be overcome to achieve success. It can be a motivating influence to those students to work harder, achieve better qualifications, network more and gain more work experience to rise above the large number of competitors for a smaller number of jobs.

Would those students say that they went into their HE courses with their eyes open to the test of finding connected employment afterwards? I don’t know, but it doesn’t necessarily follow that LMI would or should have stopped them running up that particular hill.

LMI can be a positive influence on career choice and should be celebrated for it.