Oral statement to Parliament

Institute for Careers Guidance Annual Conference 2011

This speech was published under the 2010 to 2015 Conservative and Liberal Democrat coalition government

Good morning everyone. I am very pleased to be here today in one of our most fashionable, creative and enterprising cities. Given that fashion…

Good morning everyone.

I am very pleased to be here today in one of our most fashionable, creative and enterprising cities. Given that fashion is about here and now and I’m more interested in then and when, it is the other two adjectives - creative and enterprising - which are my main themes for today.

The National Careers Service will be launched next April, and builds on Next Step, introduced last Summer, which has been and continues to be a vital and successful Government service. Next Step has the capacity to provide guidance to 700,000 adults a year, and can handle up to 1 million telephone guidance sessions and 20 million website sessions. And over 80% of adults receiving guidance say that it influences their decision to learn or move on in employment.

These are impressive figures. They are testament to the achievements of the careers sector, and the respect in which careers guidance is held by those who have benefitted from it. And Next Step is a landmark service, streets ahead of the provision for adults we have seen in the past. Establishing a fully integrated careers service for adults was my ambition in opposition, delivered in Government.

Now as we plan the launch of the National Careers Service we approach a moment of immense significance. It marks the point at which the careers sector will step into the sunlight. It is the start of your renaissance.

And to do that, the sector needs to be both creative and enterprising, just as the City of Brighton and Hove has been. From the prescribing of seawater in the 1740s to its current epithet of “Silicon Beach”, Brighton has flourished.

Change is always a challenge, and for some people too hard to face. Perhaps that’s why we’ve heard too much talk of a “golden age” in careers guidance which is at risk. I don’t want you to have any illusions that the past was better than the future. Although the Connexions service had an impact on the lives of many young people, it was a model that simply did not work.

Giving professional careers guidance is a specialism, which requires expertise and experience. The Connexions model stretched professional careers advisers to breaking point, requiring of them that they give expert advice on health, housing, personal finance and other matters.

This was ineffective, and ultimately destructive: the product of a public service strategy which asked professionals to do everything at once, rather than doing what they know best.

This was not the right model for professional careers guidance, and it will not be the model for the future.

The launch of the National Careers Service brings a clear focus on professional, independent guidance which springs from a deep knowledge of the labour market and the specialist skills and experience of the careers adviser. Empirical, up to date, and to the point. That is what you have all called for, and that is exactly what will be delivered.

But it depends on the commitment of every single person in this room; every professional in the sector; everyone like us who has a passion for careers guidance.

I am sensitive to the scale of the challenge you face and know just how radical our ambitions are. But I want us to move on and up, and take bold strides forward. Yes,economic circumstances are difficult. But that must be a spur, an inspiration to even greater creativity, drive and ambition. As I said in Belfast, we simply have to do more with less; and that will be the project and the glory of the careers profession.

I am passionate about guidance. It can set young people upon a path which will inspire and motivate them at every turn. It can help adults who have fallen on hard times turn around their lives. It deserves the highest and widest public recognition, and the prestige of a profession which is respected and admired.

You have a chance, a golden chance, to turn your passion for guidance into a reinvigoration of the sector’s aims and ambitions. But we must move with the times. The model of the past is not the model of the future, and I want you to develop, to innovate, to reinvent where you need to reinvent, and to rise to the challenge.

As I have said before, guidance is “the stuff of dreams”, because it clarifies and inspires. As Ruskin put it, “To see clearly is poetry, prophecy and religion, all in one.”

The National Careers Service will bring online and helpline services for young people and adults together in one place. It will be required to hold the new, more rigorous matrix standard which I had the pleasure to launch earlier this month. It will have a redesigned website which makes information about careers and the labour market more accessible. It will provide high quality advice and guidance to adults in community locations. And it will be promoted at a national level, so that its profile and visibility are high.

I want the National Careers Service to be the gold standard in careers guidance. It will not manage the market - the Government’s approach is to remove regulation, not increase it. But it will set a standard of quality and professionalism that all providers of guidance should seek to match.

Alongside that, the Careers Profession Alliance is leading the renaissance of the guidance profession. Following the great work of the Careers Profession Task Force, the Alliance has set itself the target of achieving chartered status for the careers profession inside three years.

I was delighted to share a platform today with Ruth Spellman, who is chair of the Alliance. This is not by chance, but by design. I want to stand shoulder to shoulder with the careers profession as it continues its journey, and I was pleased that Ruth spoke with authority about the steps which need to be taken.

I applaud the ambition the Alliance have shown, and strongly support the work that Ruth and her colleagues are leading. Developing a set of professional standards which are respected and aspired to by all those providing careers advice - wherever they work and to whatever professional body they belong - is an undertaking of the utmost importance; and I urge all the parties involved onwards to success.

I support the work on developing Higher Apprenticeships as a route for the professions, and I am sympathetic with the view that a quota of level 6 staff should be the aim. So the building blocks are in place. And we are working to a clear strategy, which will not change.

The participation age for education and training will be raised to 18 in 2015. In line with that flagship policy, responsibility for careers guidance for young people will be devolved to the institutions of learning which know them best, and local authorities will be expected to work hard to re-engage those who have disengaged with the system. Schools will work with local authorities to identify young people who are at risk.

The National Careers Service will provide information, advice and guidance which supports growth and social mobility, and is in tune with the labour market. Its advisers will be expert, and its reputation will be second to none.

And underpinning this, the careers profession - and the market in high quality careers services - will continue to grow.

We must continue to look for new and better ways of measuring and recording the positive outcomes to which guidance can lead. Government will play its part in seeking new sources of evidence; but we will continue to be challenged to justify every penny we spend, and the best evidence of success is that which you yourselves provide.

The Alliance, its constituent bodies, and every organisation and adviser in the sector, will need to champion the quality of professional standards to which guidance is delivered, so that there is demand for professional services.

And everyone whose business it is to engage in this noble profession - not just the National Careers Service - will need to look for the opportunities and openings which allow them to demonstrate their skill and commitment.

I know there has been debate about the importance of face to face careers guidance for young people.

I share the view that face to face guidance is of critical importance. Pupils and students can benefit enormously from support offered in person, which raises their aspirations and guides them onto a successful path.

This is particularly true of those young people who do not have the social networks which can connect them to inspiring figures in different occupations; or those who come from families with a long history of unemployment; or those with learning difficulties or disabilities. You will have heard me speak before about the importance of wherewithal: many young people do not lack aspiration, but do lack the means to achieve their goals. Face to face guidance can help to move them onto the right path. This is the difference between information and advice, between data and understanding. It was Eliot after all who said “where is the knowledge lost in information.”

Many of you have stressed the importance of ensuring that schools are able to draw on careers guidance of the highest quality. I share that view. My friends in the teaching profession have left me in no doubt that headteachers are ready to respond to the new duty to secure independent, impartial careers guidance. But they have called for support to help them take advantage of opportunity, and help others do the same.

So today I am pleased to report that my right honourable friend Lord Hill of Oareford told the House of Lords last week that Government will bring forward statutory guidance for schools on the new legal duty. He also said that this statutory guidance will highlight to schools how they can be confident that the external support they are buying in is of the desired quality; and that the Government would consult on the guidance.

Lord Hill also confirmed that the Government will place a clear expectation on schools that they should secure face-to-face careers guidance where it is the most suitable support, in particular for disadvantaged children, those who have special needs and those with learning difficulties or disabilities.

These important messages in statutory guidance will be underpinned by the sharing of effective practice and evidence of what works. Headteachers need to be able to spread the word about the best, most innovative and most cost effective providers of guidance.

And we will not stop there. The matrix standard embodies the quality I expect of all careers guidance services. As a visible national standard, it will be promoted, and should serve to help schools decide what careers guidance to secure.

And providers in the National Careers Service will be encouraged to market their services to schools. This will provide an additional stimulus for the market in young people’s guidance to respond.

Let me reiterate. We are moving from a past in which specialist, professional careers guidance was submerged by a model which did not work, to a future in which high quality, dynamic and responsive careers services will flourish.

We can create a long term environment for guidance which endures. But the sector needs to seize its opportunity.

And in Government, we will not rest on our laurels. On the contrary, we will continue to increase the reach and visibility of careers guidance.

We will encourage careers guidance providers in the community to establish networks with other public, private and voluntary sector services. Specialist services working in partnership can have a huge impact on outcomes for individual people. So I want to build on the level of co-location which the Next Step service has already developed.

I can confirm today that the number of Further Education colleges working with Next Step has now reached 139. Some, such as Southgate College, are exploring new models which bring together careers and job support. Here, in Brighton, Next Step South East is co-located with City College and the Whitehawk Inn community centre to deliver both support and training. We will work with the Association of Colleges, Jobcentre Plus and others to further develop those models. Following our launch in the spring, my ambition is for co-location with Job Centre Plus and colleges to exceed 250 sites across the UK by the end of next year. I can also announce that from April 2012, we will pilot new forms of co-location for the National Careers Service, including in places of worship, community centres, the charitable and voluntary sectors.

We will help providers in the service to expand their share of business in the market, so they can take the quality of the National Careers Service offer out as widely as possible, and I want to explore how a peripatetic service can be put in place to serve rural areas like the one I represent. The National Careers Service - in towns, cities and villages across the UK.

And we will continue to explore how we make best use of available funding to support Growth and Social Mobility - for example, by reviewing the groups which are eligible for more than one session of face to face support.

The National Careers Service will be at the heart of the system. To play its role as part of the vision I have set out, it will need inspirational leadership, and a hotline to the profession. So I can announce today:

  • that we will establish a National Council for Careers made up of key figures from the profession, to advise on the management and direction of the service as it continues to develop;
  • and that in the New Year, we will publish a document confirming the policy and direction for careers guidance, which will reinforce everything I have said today.

In Belfast, I issued a challenge, and called on you all to respond. My message has not changed. Indeed, it has got stronger, my conviction still more certain.

This is the careers profession’s time. This is a renaissance. I love the past but I am not its captive. It will not take us forward.

Everyone in this room, everyone out there in the sector is committed to inspiring and guiding the young people and adults of this country. We need to step up to the mark, as will the Government . In Kipling’s words “Gardens are not made by sitting in the shade.” We must continue the journey, and move into the bright sunshine. Moving forward, not holding back. Aiming high, not for ourselves, but for the lives we change through what we are and what we do.

Thank you for listening.