The visit to the careers adviser was a fixed part of the School experience when I was a pupil. I recall a couple of visits during my time. The first was just before I needed to select the ‘O’ Levels and GCSE’s and the second time when I briefly entered VIth form with a disastrous set of exam results, only to be saved by a space opening up at Technical College a few days later. I truthfully have no idea what happened between the mid 1970’s and the late 1990’s but at the Millennium the service had become Connexions, a badge that extended into all encompassing provision within the Community and that extended well beyond offering simple careers type advice into things like mental health provision and parenting advice. Connexions gradually collapsed, leading to job losses for advisers (one of my friends was one) and a degree of chaos regarding what would replace the vital element of assisting young men and women in Schools as they try to make vital decisions. Another attempt was made around 2005 when a new focus came out that was linked to the business link service offered to small businesses. The idea was that the children being advised could be linked to businesses that had job vacancies. This was then starved of funds as the Government extended the length of the School period in an attempt to reduce the number of young people falling into a category which is termed NEET. Not in Employment, Education or Training. Yet another scheme has just begun:
Schools in Birmingham are trialling a new service which is due to be extended to 9 other areas by the end of the School year. By March 2017 all Schools have been promised that they will be part of the service. However this is not a focus on helping all young people to make choices for their studies and how to get into work. This is a much narrower scheme which will aim to deliver “independent, high-quality and impartial careers advice” to young people deemed to be at risk of dropping out of education and not getting a job. “The support will be demand-led by schools and will be directed at those young people identified as being at risk of becoming NEET or who are otherwise disadvantaged in the labour market”. It always makes sense to focus resources where they are most needed, however young people understand about stigma in a way that few adults experience. To be the cohort visiting the Job Centre Plus adviser rather than participating in other lessons will not be a badge of honour or respect for many. In any event in many educational settings people have disengaged and dropped out emotionally, long before those in authority are able to apply resources to address this disengagement. Another problems is the extent to which Job Centre Plus can sustain this initiative. A few years ago when I was Chair of a major charity, we ran advice centres in a number of neighbourhoods which had measurably high levels of deprivation. One of the core offerings was from Job Centre Plus who offered a service identical to that available at the Job Centre, but many of these, mostly young, people spent their lives in the estate, rather than in the town where the Job Centre was located. This was a service that worked very well until the Government cut the funding. This new idea will be becoming effective just as the Government is preparing for the next election!
What our young people need and deserve is access to advice that does not stigmatise, and is not withdrawn at short notice. They also need services that are able to engage with them where they are, not where the state thinks they are.