A revolution in careers guidance is essential to halt further youth unemployment

Liam Benjamin Preston
Thursday, December 15, 2011

I've spent much of the last few years speaking to young people about a vast array of topics and one in particular is around their future; and in particular the choices they've had, the decisions they've made, and ultimately where they are now. But I continually ask the same questions; Have you had any careers advice and if so what was it like?

It's alarming that I'm usually met with two responses; "No" or "Yes, but it wasn't very good!" It's a possibility that the young people I've spoken to were unaware of the advice available or simply they were not interested in it at the time. What frightens me most is how both the education system and the government are failing to prepare our youth to tackle a world that is rapidly changing around them.

What's most hard hitting for me, is the necessity for young people to have an understanding of what is needed, both in terms of qualification and skill set, in order to do the particular job which they aspire to do. When I received my careers guidance, I was in Year 10 at school.  I sat in front of a computer screen and clicked a series of buttons which magically told me that I should be a landscape gardener. Other than this one solitary moment of careers guidance, which was part of a PSHE class, I have not had a single other piece of guidance in my life and I don't think I'm the only one of my generation to be in this position. When speaking to friends about their experiences, the same wildcard job titles were suggested, "investment banker", "civil engineer" and "greengrocer" but I found no desire or passion from them to pursue these careers. 

What does this show us? It shows us that careers guidance shouldn't be a meaningless interaction between a mouse and a computer screen, it shows us that careers guidance should be about engaging with our young people. It should be given by real people, qualified experts, and our young people should have the opportunity to engage with experienced individuals that have the knowledge to support them, not just once but over a series of time. The axing of the connexions service has left a dramatic void in the knowledge we are equipping our young people with when they enter what is already an uncertain future. Young people should be engaged in the process of careers guidance and it needs to be a two-way experience developing not just the knowledge but the aspiration of what future they want to build for themselves.

It's impossible to shy away from the mass youth unemployment sweeping across the UK and we need to go back to some of the fundamental reasons behind this. We have many graduates who are unemployed and this has a large amount to do with the inflation of qualifications but I also believe it's about young people being completely unaware of what career path they wish to take or where their education can take them. At the European Youth Forum and OECD (Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development) conference on "Youth Employment in Europe" earlier this week, Simon Kuper, columnist with the Financial Times, stated that "In some OECD countries, nearly half of young people working are doing jobs where they are overqualified for..." This is the problem we are facing in the UK.  We have a generation which has been fed the line from a young age, that get a degree and you'll get a job at the end. The sad reality is this is not true at all.

So where do we go from here? It's time to pave the way for a more informative, supportive and engaging future for our young people. We need to be investing in young people now but not just in services that are target and preventative, but in services that help foster development. The government needs to look into how the decisions that young people take about the rest of their lives are influenced and the level of knowledge which they have when making them. Now, more than ever, there is a need for a revolution in the careers guidance that young people receive. It should be informative, develop them as learners and take the young people on a journey, where they are able to make decisions not based on a 10-minute test but on exploration of their passions and desires, with someone who wants them to succeed.