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Steve Stewart heads up Careers England, who are the sole trade association for organisations involved in the provision of Careers Education, Information, Advice and Guidance (CEIAG). He discusses how we can best continue to improve our careers system and ensure the country stays focused - and that ultimately we get the job done.

Early in the 1990’s I had the opportunity to visit Berlin to look in detail at the German education system. It was a great experience from which I learnt a lot, but one moment had a lasting impact. It was when we were discussing the German approach to apprenticeships which is now recognised as a world class model. I asked the speaker, who was from the Chamber of Commerce if he really thought the German system was as good as we were led to believe. He replied in perfect English: "It’s very difficult to be sure, the system has only been going for about thirty years."

Compare that with the British approach where thirty months is a long time without change. As a nation we have a habit of constantly pulling up beautiful flowers to see if they are alive and flourishing. We never seem to give ourselves enough time to finish the job.

This is my worry about improving our careers system, we need the time to finish the job.

Building on our success

Just look at the progress we’re starting to make. England now has a very good Careers Strategy built on solid and recognised research into what works – the eight Gatsby Benchmarks. Looking at where we were in 2012, we've made good progress. The Careers and Enterprise Company’s State of the Nation Report demonstrates that over 3000 schools and colleges are taking the challenge of providing good careers support for their students very seriously.

Further analysis tells us: there has been progress on all 8 Gatsby Benchmarks. 50% of schools and colleges are achieving the benchmark “Encounters with employers." Around 1000 schools and colleges are fully achieving nearly three of the benchmarks.

This, plus more schools and colleges than ever are achieving "The Quality in Careers Standard" is all good and encouraging news.

However will history repeat itself and will we take our foot off the pedal and not finish the job of developing a first rate careers system for all young people? I think this time we’ll get it right and Government [even with a General Election coming] will push this agenda forward.

"Reasons to be cheerful"

Why am I so positive, here’s my six reasons to be cheerful about the careers agenda in the future:

  • Brexit: we know one thing for sure which is we’ve got to work harder to develop home grown talent. Key to this is high quality careers support so we get the right learning and experience in the right place for each young person.
  • Student debt: the decision to go to university or take an apprenticeship now determines life-lasting personal debt, it’s a decision that needs high quality careers support.
  • Skills gaps and shortages: these are worsening every day, yet we still have large numbers of disengagement and drop out.
  • Curriculum change: T levels will require good underpinning careers advice and support to enable young people and parents to recognise their value as an option post 16.
  • Social mobility: we now recognise the contribution good careers support makes to improving social mobility.
  • Fourth industrial age: we know that we need to develop good careers research and decision-making skills in our young people to enable them to manage the great occupational and economic structural change that’s starting.

Good quality careers support for all is now recognised and promoted as a key driver of success and progress in meeting these policy challenges.

So, at a very practical level we must continue to finish the job of ensuring every school and college has a qualified careers leader, every area has a careers hub where sharing good practice and partnership working between schools and colleges is the norm, and that in every educational institution we have well-qualified professional careers advisers providing impartial and independent careers advice on all career options. The economic and social costs of not finishing the job are just too great.