The Education and Employers Taskforce has released a report in collaboration with UKCES and the b-live Foundation that explores the problem of connecting education with the labour market.
The report begins with the following question:
Is there any alignment between the career aspirations of young people, aged between 13 and 18, and the best estimates of actual demand within the current and future British labour market?
In a remarkably thorough and sobering manner, the paper walks through a variety of studies that show that the answer to the question is no, the careers that young people aspire to resemble in no way the projected labour market trends.The vast majority of young people (age 13-14 and 15-16) indicated their interest in culture, media and sports occupations with a slightly smaller percentage interested in careers as health professionals.
Put another way, the career aspirations of teenagers at all ages can be said to have nothing in common with the projected demand for labour in the UK between 2010 and 2020.”
With young people age 17-18, health professionals were slightly more desirable than culture, media and sports occupations, but still, both fields received far more interest than either could sustain. The graph below shows the disparity between careers desired and careers needed (C6 is Culture, Media and Sports Occupations, C11 is Health Professionals).
Clearly, the economy cannot support all these aspiring actors and athletes. Many other professional occupations provide excellent wages and can provide as fulfilling a career. So why don’t learners strive for the kind of jobs that the economy can actually provide?
A small number of existing studies have considered whether the career aspirations of young people reflect the reality of labour market demand. All have concluded that an information gap exists and that teenagers commonly have a very weak understanding of labour market demand.
The problem is one of misunderstanding. Young people don’t have a good grasp of the broad labour market, so they don’t know what jobs to pursue. In addition, many young people have a mistaken idea of what their career path ought to look like. Planning for the future sometimes should include choosing a career goal, picking a college that can provide the necessary qualifications and then pursuing a reliable, well-paying job that best aligns with the student’s interests and desires. But at every step of the way, that decision-making process requires input and advice. The National Careers Service, Ofsted and others place an enormous emphasis on impartial, informed careers advice, but increasingly, learners are not given the support that they need.
The gap between career interest and the labour market is by no means a new one, but the situation has become more serious as the economy has struggled to recover its footing. The solution is simple, really. Institutions need to communicate with their students to find out the students’ abilities and interests and institutions need to communicate with local employers to find out what positions they will need to fill in the next two, three, four and ten years. When college heads are aware of the needs of their local economies, they can configure their course provision to best meet the needs of their local labour market.
The solution may be simple, but it is not a walk in the park. Career Coach, our web-based careers guidance tool, can connect learners to careers that interest them, and even provide valuable information about the economic temperature of those careers, but the best careers advice will still come from the college itself. The FE college sector needs to continue to increase the effectiveness and reach of its careers services if we want learners to work towards feasible careers, but to achieve this colleges need that right tools at their disposal and Career Coach is an ideal solution.