Oral statement to Parliament

Launch of the Revised Matrix Standard

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

Read the press notice on the Matrix Standard Good afternoon everyone. Those who have heard me speak before will know that I have described…

Read the press notice on the Matrix Standard

Good afternoon everyone.

Those who have heard me speak before will know that I have described careers guidance as “the stuff of dreams”. It promotes ambition, increases motivation and strengthens the desire to succeed. At its best, it can be inspirational. Today is about how we make those dreams come true.

To do that, guidance must be provided in a way which is of the highest professional standards, and free of the influence of any particular organisation. The new National Careers Service, which will be launched in April next year, will exemplify those principles.

However, those whom the service inspires will need absolute confidence in its quality. I want careers guidance to be re-established as one of our most respected professions, with the same status in the public eye as doctors, lawyers and engineers.

The careers sector is leading the development of new professional standards to which careers advisers can aspire. The Careers Profession Alliance is working to agree those standards by next year, and I continue to be immensely grateful for the hard work that they are doing.

But it is equally important that there is a visible, national quality standard for those organisations which provide careers guidance. It should act as a badge of the highest quality, carrying a level of prestige which the public recognises and which organisations are proud to embody.

So I am delighted to be here today to endorse the launch of the revised matrix Standard.

When we set out to review the existing matrix Standard, we wanted to design a badge of quality which would be fit for the 21st century.

It needed to be rigorous to ensure that it raised the bar on quality.

It needed to work for organisations, by being compatible with other standards and frameworks which promote quality, so that information can be gathered once and used many times.

It needed to reflect the changes in the careers guidance profession and it help organisations develop as their business needs changed.

And finally, it needed to be flexible, so that it could be used right across the market in careers guidance which we are seeking to strengthen - from sole traders to large organisations, and from schools to Further Education colleges and universities.

I am very pleased to see that all this has been achieved. The revised Standard now provides a more business focused structure which has been welcomed by those organisations that already use it.

It has been aligned to other measures of quality, such as the OFSTED common inspection framework. It sets a clear expectation that careers sector organisations should ensure their staff are able to pursue the new professional standards that the public will increasingly ask for.

And finally, as someone who spends much of his working life reading official documents of wildly varying penetrability, I’m especially pleased to be able to say that the language used for the Standard has been simplified. This will make it more accessible to the widest possible range of organisations, so we can continue to encourage new providers with new ideas to enter the market.

I would like, therefore to extend my warmest thanks to all the organisations that have been involved in this important piece of work.

Reflecting that importance, we will expect all providers in the National Careers Service to achieve the revised Standard by April 2013. The Skills Funding Agency, which oversees the service contracts, will take a close interest in that process.

But the proof of our success will lie in the hopes, dreams and ambitions of the countless young people and adults who are advised by careers professionals. The will expect an even higher quality of service, and it is our duty to ensure that these expectations are not only met, but exceeded. Dynamic provision to meet dynamic needs.

I have, as I always do, spoken about careers guidance with - I hope - visible passion and enthusiasm. But you could be forgiven for asking why, with such pressure on the public finances and such a long list of public services in urgent need of reform, the Government is so keen to make further changes to the arrangements for careers guidance?

That’s something about which my colleagues and I have thought a great deal. And, for me at least, a large part of the answer lies in the very instability of the concept of a career.

There was a time, and it ended rather less than a century or more ago, when poor people tended to have jobs, middle-class people tended to have careers and many richer people tended to be unemployed. One of the major differences between now and then was that unemployment for a few could be viewed as a badge of honour. Gentlemen often described themselves in the census as “unemployed”, a sign that they could afford not to work rather than that they just couldn’t find work.

For the many, including my ancestors, unemployment meant misery and, in those far-off days, before the welfare state, a job was a sign that you and your family needed to earn enough money to feed, clothe and house yourselves.

The word “job” is of Anglo-Saxon origin. And for quite a lot of our history, it’s been true that a job could easily involve precisely the same thing on your first day in it as on your last maybe fifty years later.

By contrast, people with careers also needed to earn a wage in order to live. But the word also implied something more. Not just a certain level of education, but also a sense of progress, of upward mobility in social and material terms.

The word “career” derives from Norman French and ultimately from the Latin carrera, or “race”. And indeed, some time after 1066, a job became what the conquered did while careers were reserved for the conquerors.

Even today, the question of whether a person is looking for a job or a career is essentially about how they see their place in society. Do they see themselves as the modern equivalent of one of the Saxon swineherds who kept the pigs, or as one of the Norman barons who ate the pork?

But “career” carries other implications these days, too. Among other things, it calls to mind the carriere, the very last and often fatal moment of a cavalry charge when the horses are given their head and devil take the hindmost.

In similar vein, and, at least to those of us who remember the 1960s, the idea of a race in this context often has the word “rat” as a prefix. As good a description as any is Robert Frost’s observation that “By working faithfully eight hours a day you may eventually get to be boss and work twelve hours a day”.

The distinction between jobs and careers is not just of historical significance. When a young person leaves full-time education and steps out into adult life today, they have perhaps less idea of what awaits them than at any time for generations.

Most would no longer expect as a matter of course to follow their fathers through the factory gates, or down a coal mine or indeed into one of the professions. Perhaps few would expect that their first job would still be what they will still be doing in a few years’ time. Indeed, many wonder what the next fifty or sixty years will hold for them.

In Britain today, nearly a million young people are unemployed - and not, in the vast majority of cases, out of choice.

How are they to find their own path as adults?

How are they to fill their active lives with worthwhile activity?

How can they make a real contribution to making their communities and society at large better, as so many of those to whom I speak really want to?

And how are they to gain that self-respect that comes from providing for your loved ones through your own efforts?

How are they to gain the purpose and pride that is the foundation of fulfilment?

It is hard to overstate the social, political and economic urgency of finding answers to these questions. If we value our society, our democracy and our country, we must help people to see that they have a future within their grasp.

When I was a boy, many old people still lived with the memory of the terror of the workhouse, where the comparative many working people ended up when they were no longer able to provide for themselves.

Workhouses had actually disappeared many years before, after Lloyd George introduced the Old Age Pensions Act in 1908. That, for the first time, offered a weekly income from the State to people aged over 70 who needed it.

Lest anyone here marvel at the generosity of the Edwardian era, I should add that, in part due to infant mortality, average male life-expectancy at the time was only 45. It did not exceed 70 even in the mid-1970s.

Someone born in this country today can expect to live to be over 80. And that’s not all that has changed. So, too, has the sort of life they can expect to live, at work and at home.

The pace of economic and technical development mean that a “job for life” is an increasingly rare commodity. Corporate career paths that were well trodden by earlier generations now branch off in unexpected directions increasingly frequently. And, not least important, ordinary people’s aspirations have grown.

Those are not things to be regretted, especially the last. On the contrary, we should all celebrate the fact that these days young people are not simply steered into ruts and that we want them to aspire. But if we want them to turn aspirations into a real chance of fulfilling employment, we must help them to prepare.

That is what the new National Careers Service is for and that is why it is so central to the Government’s wider ambitions for Britain and its people.

And that is why the revised Matrix Standard will offer such vital underpinning to the quality of the Service’s work.

Changing lives by changing life changes. A nation enlivened by purposeful pride feeding individual achievement and nourishing the common good.