For anyone who has been following the progress of the Careers and Enterprise Company, you’ll note that until last week, their ‘News & Events’ page hasn’t been updated since August, when the first report from the Sub-Committee on Education, Skills and the Economy was published.
Now, that’s not to say they haven’t been busy, in fact, I would say that they have been busier than ever. On October 4th, we saw the ‘Moments of Choice’ report published which sought to identify how young people think about careers and, as their headline put it, why are career choices so hard for young people? Alongside this report, they have also published a response, which explores in more detail the assumptions behind the research and how we could better help young people with the career decisions they have to make. It also asks for comments and suggestions from stakeholders: YOU.
And, if that wasn’t enough to digest in one week, they then announced a £4 million fund to help young people into work - with £1 million of that set aside specifically for ‘Opportunity Areas.’
We’ve delved deeper into all of this, so you don’t have to! Below you'll find more information on what's new with them, focusing on evidence, funding and enterprise advisers.
Moments of Choice
Simply, the Moments of Choice Report has found that the majority of young people do not engage in thinking about career options because they are faced with a choice overload: that is, there are too many decisions to make and too many choices available to them. The report also found that young people want experiences that help them understand what it would be like to do different jobs and they want personalised information to help them make informed choices.
The report follows the two pieces of research which took place between January and March 2016. The first piece of research looks into how young people think about career decisions and how they use that information. The research involved a review of what is known about career choices, in-depth interviews with 35 young people; round table discussions with teachers, employers and careers guidance professionals and workshops with groups of young people to understand how they would like to approach career choices.
The second piece of research was a review of the products and services currently available to young people providing support on career choices. Interviews were conducted with organisations to understand their product development and collect views on additional information they wanted to provide. The research has provided two videos on how best to use LEO (Longitudinal Education Outcomes) data.
The report found six key findings. Below we have detailed these key findings, and at the end, I have provided my own stance on where I this report sits within the industry and how we can learn from it:
- Young people find making career choices hard.
Careers and Enterprise described this as a high ‘cognitive burden’ - there are many options out there and there is no easy way to make comparisons between them all. There is an assumption that young people would benefit from making more informed choices, but they tend not to do this as the task of exploring careers information rarely feels worthwhile and useful.
Young people understand that making informed choices is beneficial to them, but struggle to answer three key questions.
- What are the possible careers open to me?
- What will it be like to do a particular job?
- What would I need to get there?
Lack of information is not the problem. The problem is that there is too much information out there from a lot of different sources - which means young people struggle to make sense of it. In other areas of their life, technology allows for young people to be given information personalised for them. The Careers and Enterprise Company liken this ‘personalised information’ to product recommendations on Amazon or suggestions on Pinterest.
The research identifies two ways to raise student engagement levels in informed choice:
- Increasing inspiration and desire to know more: Young people struggle with understanding what an opportunity entails - whether that is a job or further education.
- They acknowledged that written information and data is not very effective and young people themselves have said that encounters with the real world of work would be more useful.
Reducing the ‘cognitive burden’ of choices: More consistent and personalised information can make the task of exploring possibilities more rewarding. This requires better information, guidance and support and an education that builds their confidence in their own decision making abilities.
Digital information is fragmented:
There are around 49 organisations in the UK providing information to young people. The Careers and Enterprise Company acknowledges that there is innovation in the sector, however we are not at a point where young people are able to receive this information in a personalised manner. These information sources also do not integrate into other sources of information - parents, teachers or careers advisors. To do so often relies upon the quality and consistency of careers advice in schools.
Longitudinal Educational Outcomes Data can improve quality of information available to young people in a number of ways:
- By providing longer term earnings information Although not identified by young people as essential knowledge or something that was currently missing from the information that they are given, however, many organisations believe that short-term earnings could be misleading. Organisations have suggested that this information could be useful to share with young people who want to go to university because they believe they will earn more in the long run.
- By providing comparable outcomes data. That means measures of earnings and employment dates about different career paths, and university vs apprenticeships.
- By providing an analysis of routes. Basically, routes are different from education to employment. Routes could be defined by clustering different journeys in terms of types of institutions, subjects studied, qualifications achieved - and then be associated with good and poor outcomes.
There is now a small but growing industry of data-driven careers services. This industry seeks to work collaboratively with the government and the online employment search industry to improve the data infrastructure that supports informed choice.
Response to Moments of Choice Report
The response is split into sections primarily between the summary, the background and the future plan. Whilst the Executive Summary serves as a very brief outline of the initial report, the background section serves to define the scope of activity, and the final section ‘developing an approach on career choices’ sets out the key issues and how the Careers & Enterprise Company propose to address them.
The definitions are important. First, what defines choice? Let me begin by saying that it is not obvious. As the response explains, choice of university, for example, is usually regarded as being a choice made by the young person. Other examples - such as which secondary school you go to - are choices often made by parents, and other ‘choices’ can be determined by the school - for example, whether you start to think about your career at 7, 12, 14 or 16 and how you go about it.
Choice is typically applied to situations where the choose experiences a high degree of agency, ie. they have options, but can also be applied to circumstances where they have no control.
The Careers and Enterprise company are interested in situations where young people act in ways that are not in their own best interests, situations where they and their advisors may not be aware that their actions might have negative consequences.
Informed Choice is sometimes thought to be a concept that applies only to situations where the chooser experiences a high degree of agency and is competent to make the choice on their own. However, it can equally apply where the chooser is reliant upon external advice (ie. parents for children.) There is a spectrum of choices; from the complex, which require great expert support to the more straight forward, that can be made by most people without help. All choices require information for the individual to consider.
Choice Architecture describes the way in which decisions are presented to people. There is no such thing as a ‘neutral’ choice architecture which has no influence on the way decisions are made.
Young people can face highly edited choice sets presented by their parents, or much less edited choice sets, for example when they conduct career searches online. However, a less edited choice set does not lead to a more empowered individual if it results in an information and choice overload.
Personalisation is central to the creation of good choice architecture and zero personalisation occurs when everybody has access to the same information. Good choice architecture for young people would be one that helped build their confidence in their own decision making abilities.
The final section of the response offers an insight into how the Careers and Enterprise Company aims to address and overcome these problems and ensure that all students make informed choices. They have identified that what they are currently doing is not enough, and state that they need to be working with schools and careers guidance professionals to make the experience more rewarding, and to ensure that young people have a basic understanding of what matters most in career choices. They will do this through their network of Enterprise Advisers.
Their programmes, disseminated by their Enterprise Advisors, will be designed to educate young people but will have a target audience of those who directly interact with young people: schools, colleges, and professionals working on careers advice services.
The key messages of these programmes will be:
- What matters most: which choices are most important, which have the biggest consequences? For example: how much does choice of GCSE subject matter? How much does choice of institution at 16 matter? Is GCSE Maths more important than a level 3 NVQ? Should you worry about which job you go for or is it important to get any job?
- What are the most common mistakes: where do people most often go wrong and what is most widely misunderstood? For example: thinking that level 2 apprenticeships are similar to level 3 apprenticeships; thinking that what you study at university is more important than where you study; deciding that there is no point in thinking about a career until you are 15.
he Careers and Enterprise Company have already started communications with Careers England and the Careers Development Institute on 21st Century Careers. They plan to continue to work with their partners and, at the same time, start to address how they can promote research, build consensus and disseminate information to help young people make informed career decisions.
Despite not being a focal point on either of the reports, I must add in something here about their Enterprise Adviser Network. The Careers and Enterprise Company have close to 1000 enterprise advisers now in schools, who work with senior leaders to develop a comprehensive careers strategy and ensure students have regular interactions with employers. The enterprise advisers come from a range of backgrounds, but crucially must have the ability and networks to support a school in their employer engagement. You can read more about the Enterprise Adviser Network .
£4 million cash injection: funding information
On October 4th, the Careers and Enterprise Company announced their newest round of funding. The fund will be for £4 million and will aim to get young people into work. £1 million of that funding will be set aside for the Government defined ‘opportunity areas’, which include: West Somerset, Norwich, Blackpool, Scarborough, Oldham and Derby.
These opportunity areas have been determined by the Social Mobility Commission and were announced by Secretary of State, Justine Greening. These areas in particular, it was announced, have particular entrenched barriers that make it difficult for young people to progress. The £1 million fund will be invested into local programmes that can demonstrate their effectiveness in working with young people in need of the greatest support, for example, those with special educational needs and disabilities and pupils at risk of being NEET.
Their ambition is to see every young person in a secondary school and college have four encounters with employers.
Claudia Harris, Chief Executive of the Careers and Enterprise Company said:
“We are determined to improve social mobility and ensure that young people get the right support to transition into the world of work.
That's why we are delighted to announce that we will be investing £4 million into improving careers and enterprise provision across England – this includes £1million for the six ‘Opportunity Areas’ as identified by the government.
This money will scale up many of the existing, proven careers and enterprise programmes and ensure that young people get multiple opportunities to learn from employers through the course of their education.”
A note from me:
Having read through the rest of this report in great detail, I found that much of the information was very interesting and especially complimentary to the work of Class Careers and the rest of the industry, as it provided data to assumptions that are constantly being made. Inevitably, the report has shown that there are many influencers in a young person’s life when it comes to choosing a career or future pathway - and it is something that we, within the industry, constantly battle with: how do we engage the influencers? Parents, peers, teachers, careers guidance professionals all make the list, as well as certain TV shows. This can lead to outdated views from young people, often referring to choices common during their parents youth. Similarly, parents who went to university saw apprenticeships as a good option, but often not right for their child.
For me, the key to this report is finding a way to present a broad range of careers information to young people in a way that they are used to. Aside from parents, teachers and peers, the one thing that is consistently around young people is a social network. Whether that is Instagram, Twitter or Facebook, they have constant access to information without having to look for it. I found the reference to Amazon / Pinterest interesting - and perhaps, this can be extended to encompass all social media; through very powerful algorithms, young people are used to being presented information without lifting a finger. Essentially, we need to get clever with how we deliver careers information because young people are finding sifting through the piles of stuff already out there ‘frustrating and uninspiring’!
I welcomed the Response to Moments of Choice. Whilst there is a long way to go in getting young people to make these informed choices - and the recent funding announcement only goes to confirms that, I do feel that the Careers and Enterprise are making waves in the space and tackling the age old ‘careers advice in schools’ problem with a ground-up approach. I enjoyed reading the research and learning about their approach to this - let’s be frank - inordinate challenge!, and I am looking forward to seeing what stems from this research. Similarly, following the announcement of the funding winners from last year, I look forward to learning more about what the next round looks like.
Please do comment your thoughts in the box below!