Future Skills – recent research, responses and rants.

Future Skills – research and responses.

There have been a few new studies and reports written recently about careers development, support and access in the UK. I read a few of them over the weekend and will try and make sense of what’s been going on and what’s being suggested.

Many of the recent publications and pronouncements have been made in the TES and via charities and then shared on Twitter.*

Background and research.

In a questioning and assertive article, Kevin Rooney argues that ‘Our schools are becoming production lines for the workforce. And it’s limiting our pupils’ life chance’. He references the OFSTED report ‘Getting Ready for Work’ report in which the bleak prediction is made that the ‘nation’s economic prosperity is at risk because the majority of schools are not preparing pupils for the world of work’ and takes issue with the idea of schools as places where the skills for work are developed. [Although how young people can be blamed for future economic prosperity issues in the wake of the Stock Market Crash in 2007/8 and the long-term impact of Brexit I have no idea.]

Rooney argues rather, that teachers should be employed to encourage a love of learning and the development of skills in a number of areas and love of subjects – with work-readiness as a convenient side-effect of a fully-rounded education. As many students start their ‘career-focused learning’ in Year 9, many students don’t get to experience a second language, deep history, geography or art – as well as many DT options.

Rooney argues that schools have become in recent years the place where the ‘world-skills’ of sex education, careers, mental and physical health as well as any number of other of society’s ills can be fixed – they have become ‘engines of social mobility’ he argues, instead of places of learning. Many Headteachers, he notes, do have the aim of making pupils work-ready – because successive research has seen businesses decrying a lack of ‘plug-n-play’ employees to meet their company needs.

Central to Kevin Rooney’s argument (at The Battle of Ideas in October) is that we should allow young people the first 18 years of their life to develop skills in and a love for learning, which can then be applied to any future situation that the person finds themselves in.

There’s a lot to be said for this argument – but is it realistic? Should it be ‘realistic’ and against whose reality is it being measured?

In ‘Careers Guidance at School: How to make it work for your students’ Tristram Hooley from the Careers and Enterprise Company (CEC) spoke about the CEC’s State of the Nation 2017 report, in which they asked the question ‘How are schools doing on careers advice for benchmarks?’ There are 8 benchmarks that the CEC use which were created with the Gatsby Charitable Foundation and help to measure the effectiveness of career advice and support in an organisation.

Of the 8 benchmarks measured – including elements such as:

  • A stable careers programme.
  • Addressing the needs of each pupil
  • Linking curriculum to careers
  • Encountering with employers and employees

…it was found that more than 20% of the schools who were surveyed are not achieving any of the 8 benchmarks at all – so 1/5 of schools plus are not supporting careers education. The average respondent schools are only meeting 1.87 of the 8 benchmarks in a meaningful way.

On the surface of this, it looks like careers education in schools is failing, it’s not coordinated and it’s not fulfilling the need for developed careers information, advice and guidance (CEIAG).

What Hooley suggests is that some of the following actions be taken to support schools to deliver better CEIAG:

  • Careers and Enterprise education shouldn’t just happen in PSHE – link letter and CV writing to English, link jobs and careers to subjects – eg: engineering and electrical work to STEM.
  • Know the realities of the labour market locally – what do the jobs of the future look like through labour market intelligence and the development of technology etc? Signpost students to case studies.
  • Even if 50% of students go to university 50% will not…all routes should be explored and promoted in schools (even those with a sixth form)
  • Just over half (54.5%) of schools offer work experience in Years 10 and 11; only a third offer this in Sixth form.

The article assumes that the benchmarks being employed in the survey are meaningful to all schools and all students. They do provide a wide range of activities that strategically develop and embed careers and enterprise education in school timetables and largely support the development of comprehensive careers services in schools, but is there time in the curriculum for more CEIAG? What is the cost of CEIAG – less PSHE, less exam preparation? Each school will have to approach and embed the areas that they consider relevant to their cohort of students – maybe assessing against all 8 benchmarks isn’t relevant to each school so a sliding scale of CEIAG in-school application is more appropriate?

Finally, Mary Curnock Cook the former CEO of the University Central Admissions Service (UCAS) spoke at the Institute of Ideas saying that what we need to do (as educationalists and employers) is to ‘help young people understand what’s out there [in the world of work’…’most young people – even those with professional occupations – have no idea what their parents do day in, day out’.

Referencing young people from more disadvantaged backgrounds, Ms Curnock Cook highlighted that these students may not have people in their immediate [family or local] circle who has a job and therefore no immediate reference points for careers and work.

She points out that new T levels and Work Experience will likely help develop some awareness, but that having a career-context that is broader than current jobs will be helpful in inspiring young people to achieve academically, showing that ‘getting those grades really does matter’ in the context of wider career choices.

In the light of Mary Curnock Cook’s comments, TeachFirst have also recently issued some research that showed less than a third (32%) of the most disadvantaged students in the UK found careers advisors to be helpful – so 68% did not.

ComRes who conducted the survey with TeachFirst, asked 2,000 18 – 25 year olds to compare their access to work experience whilst in education and found that disadvantaged students were able to rely far less on connections to find work experience (WExp). Only 18% were able to use their connections to secure WExp, opposed to 44% of wealthier students.

A mere 12% of less well-off students undertaking Placements and Internships in Engineering, Architecture and other professional workplaces, compared to 27% of more advantaged students.

James Westhead exec Director of TeachFirst summarised the findings by mentioning that even with equal grades, poorer students often failed to fulfill their ambitions. He added that good careers provision can be transformational in assisting pupils from disadvantaged backgrounds.

In the report, TeachFirst recommends a number of actions to be taken:

  • Train Careers Leaders in secondary schools
  • Senior Leader support in all secondary schools
  • Supply Teacher cover for careers lessons
  • Careers Leadership apprenticeships to be set up to support the role in schools.

TeachFirst also identified a North / South divide with between 45 and 49% of young people from the SE and London having had two work placements, while only 37% of young people in the North of England could boast this level of WExp.

In response to the TeachFirst recommendations, a Dept of Education spokesperson claimed £70 Million had been invested in improving careers advice including the Careers and Enterprise Company (CEC again)…which is building links with schools and advisors and has already helped 250,000 young people.


Change is a constant…there will always be changes that need to be addressed. Presently there are loads of changes which I’ve blogged about previously:

  • Work: job types, zero-hours contracts, higher technology jobs, more service-industry jobs, the ‘gig’ economy for creative and professionals…
  • Education: Changes in GCSE grading, T-levels, apprenticeships, FE funding changes, HE changes, University Tuition Fees…
  • Politics: Brexit, Votes at 16 (or not), political changes to Education Secretaries and their ‘favourite’ policies, scandals…

In the midst of all these changes we like to think we in the UK are looking after our young people. Well, are we?

Yes, they have lots of opportunity and the possibility of going into widely-expansive job roles and yes, they have the technology to enable them to start a business with their smartphone and yes, they are really well-connected and can see the world at the touch of a button, eat exotic foods and listen to any music instantly…but what about their futures?

Some Points.

Schools are under pressure – yes they are there for academic reasons and to inculcate a love of learning – but I feel they have to have an eye on the future for young people. Young People are facing school and university at a tie when their hormones are telling them other things – good quality CEIAG is crucial. Despite budget tightening and changes, school somehow need to find a way…

Alongside PSHE and Citizenship, Enterprise Education can be the difference in attitude that can change someone’s destiny. These ‘soft’ or life skills are crucial and can help to explore and deepen other subjects and help them to become more exciting and relevant (in a long-term way). See the Sutton Trust report on Life Lessons and the World Economic Forum’s 7 skills of the future both featured in my earlier blogs.

Young People have been let down by the EU Referendum result. The implications of the Brexit vote will be felt for many generations. People 18 and under have always felt like Europeans – part of an exciting melting-pot of cultures and flavours –the referendum itself, the campaign and the ineptitude of the machinations and delivery of Brexit has become a defining issue for their generation. Add to this the #VotesAt16 debate which was allowed to filibuster out of time and I conclude that the current government has shown contempt for young people and they sadly seem to have scant regard for their future.

If businesses want ‘work-ready’ students but complain that the applicants they receive aren’t plug-n-play enough for their workplace, then it’s hardly the fault of the school or the young people is it? If companies, industries and organisations want to recruit and develop people who will fit their moulds, then they need to put their time where their complaints are and support their local schools in whatever way they can.

OK, so what now?

This is a lengthy blog, but here are some punchy TTDs (Things to Do):

  • Research is great BUT it needs acting on.
  • There are far too many patchy attempts at ‘Careers Ed’ in the past for me to be able to suggest one thing that works…in fact there can’t be because of the constant change (whether that is in the market or funding changes).
  • Skills for Life may be a better overall title than ‘Careers’ because the academic skills developed in schools added to the Life Lessons (Sutton Trust) and 7 Future Skills (World Economic Foundation) would set most young people up for their future – whether FE, HE, HE+, Work, Professional or other job-types.
  • The 8 benchmarks strategy (from Gatsby Charitable Foundation) model is a good one, but would be better applied in a strategic way with support from local employers and where possible strategic partnership from the CEC. Part by part the benchmarks would build skills and confidence as well as competence in schools.
  • Tap into your alumni association to get experienced and skilled ex-students to come back into your education setting and talk about their experiences and hopefully secure some WExp opportunities.
  • Get professional help!
    • National Careers Week is a ‘from-the-ground-up’ movement of careers inspiration, a non-partisan celebration of careers which provides an annual focal point for careers and skills across the UK. It is – and will always be – free to schools and other educational settings and will build resources, skills and competence in delivery. #NCW2018 is 5-10 March 2018.
    • National Careers Week is engaging sponsors for the week NOW and also looking for more longer-term sponsorship to Make Every Week Careers Week with exciting proposals in the pipeline for free resources, inspiration and enthusiasm! #NCW2018 will continue to equip schools to network locally and galvanise their regional and relevant support.
    • Here at Innovative Enterprise we deliver range of enterprise skills sessions and workshops and resources – there are loads of video and written testimonials of our work.
    • COMING SOON (well it’s here already but not been launched yet) is DoorWhatDoor.com which is our next and biggest proposal for young people and their futures. DoorWhatDoor.com “aims to work with companies so that every year 9 student in the UK can develop the skills, attitudes and armour for the future ahead” – these activities, events and resources will be FREE for schools, funded by businesses, supported by staff from the companies and their Corporate Social Responsibility.

The rousing call to action:

I believe we have a duty to young people to harness companies and corporations to work to support young people in their current and future situations – accelerating their development, overcoming uncertainty and empowering their resilience and attitude in the uncertain times ahead.

If we can help to motivate, support, develop or support you in some way, get in touch.




Twitter: @EnterpriseSBox and @DoorWhatDoor


Appendix (sort of).

*EduTwitter is a big friendly sharing space and all sorts of excellent ideas and research reports are shared every day – people mentioned in this report:

@CareersWeek – National Careers Week

@WEF – World Economic Forum

@TeachFirst – Teach First

@SuttonTrust – The Sutton Trust

@TES – The Times Educational Supplement

@CareerEnt – Careers and Enterprise Company