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Let’s end the lottery on careers advice

By 2022, two million more jobs in the UK will require higher skills levels.

Many of those jobs will be in M&E and in the wider construction industry, according to the Forging Futures report by the UK Commission for Employment and Skills.

I have read much – and had many conversations with industry colleagues – about the need to increase the number of apprentices and graduates to meet the skills gap.

NG Bailey’s apprenticeship scheme has already helped more than 5,500 young people into sustainable careers, and we have an ongoing programme to broaden our apprenticeship offering beyond traditional M&E skills.

Creating sustainable employment opportunities is essential, both through apprenticeships and through other avenues that aim to excite young people about the breadth of STEM-related careers.

This is why we’ve recently launched our ‘Inspire’ programme, which has been designed to help young people see what a future career in the industry looks like. 

Varying standards

Working closely with schools has highlighted to us the difference in the quality of careers advice provision across England.

Since the 2011 Education Act, significant changes have been made to the way careers advice for 13- to 16-year-old students is organised and delivered in England.

In my opinion, not all the changes have been positive – certainly not as far as our industry is concerned.

“The construction industry’s skills needs are well documented. That’s why we cannot leave this issue to politicians and civil servants to sort”

Schools have been left to not only decide what careers advice is best for their students, but how to fund it.

Student career guidance was previously provided by Connexions, a government-funded agency, which was disbanded nationally in 2012.

Now schools are responsible for providing careers advice, but have been given no extra funding to pay for it.

Given that a reasonable level of careers advice support is estimated to cost each school around £25,000 a year, it’s hardly surprising few schools offer a comprehensive service.

Consequently, the quality of careers advice varies greatly between schools.

Falling short

It’s become something of a lottery, dependent on many factors, as to whether pupils get the breadth and depth of careers advice and support they need.

Even teachers do not believe the current system is working. According to a 2013 YouGov survey for education firm Pearson, only a third (34 per cent) of teachers are confident their school offers proper career guidance.

Careers advice is falling short of what our young people need, and what the construction industry requires.

It is not of a consistently high standard – and it needs to be.

The government – BIS and DfE – must look at how careers guidance in schools is operated and funded.

It needs to be more consistent, with better links to the workplace and for vocational options to be treated as seriously as academic options.

The construction industry’s skills needs are well documented. That’s why we cannot leave this issue to politicians and civil servants to sort.

It needs industry-wide collaboration – and financial commitment – if we are to make the changes I believe are necessary.

The skills gap is becoming critical, so we all need to get behind this.

We need innovative ways of attracting a younger audience to our industry, which for a traditional sector such as M&E, means us embracing new and emerging technologies much more than we already do.

Addressing the careers advice issue is just the first step.

David Hurcomb is chief executive at NG Bailey

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