Two years ago, Chesterfield College undertook some research into their new intake of students. One of the questions they asked was, “Did you speak to a careers adviser prior to coming to college?” Surprisingly, over 81% answered no to this question.
This clear lack of good careers guidance could well be seen in a negative light, but for Chesterfield it was also seen as an opportunity to really step in and make a positive difference, not only for students coming into the College, but also much earlier on in the lives of local young people.
At the time of the research, the College was undergoing a complete overhaul of their Enquiry Management and Admissions system, and the results of the research added an extra incentive to integrate a new approach to career’s advice into the overall changes being made. The resulting overhaul for careers advice was a “student journey” that included a careers diagnostic interview for every applicant, allowing each prospective student to explore what career path they were interested in and which course suited this goal; a personalised webpage for all new starters; and a “Right choice review” after six weeks of entering the College, where students sit down with a tutor to discuss how they are getting on, whether they are getting the support they need, and whether their course is what they expected.
The whole ethos is very much one of directing students to positive destinations and then giving them all the help they need to get there. According to Ben Owen, the College’s Head of Student Services, it was the need to give their students a more tangible careers direction that led to the College purchasing EMSI’s Career Coach tool:
“Career Coach is a key part of our recruitment and tutorial processes , and it puts something real to where you are going. You’re not just relying on someone’s experience. You’ve actually got something in front of you telling you that’s where the jobs are, that’s what you can be earning and that’s where you can go in terms of promotion.”
Each student who went through this new process was asked their feedback at the end of the journey to see if it added value. There were over 1,600 responses to the survey with really positive feedback from the students on the process overall. The feedback on specific questions on Careers Advice and Research scored very highly. Over 95% of students agreed that the process “helped them explore their career options” and over 92% of student agreed the process “gave them a better idea of what to study at College and how that course linked to local job opportunities”.
A consequence of this is that the College’s dropout rate in the first six weeks is now much lower than before. This rise can partly be attributed to the focus on providing students with real direction, and according to Ben, Career Coach is certainly playing a big part in this:
“It’s like anything in life: if you know where it’s leading you to, you engage with it.”
The College’s attempts to provide students with real direction has gone hand-in-hand with efforts to refine their curriculum to the needs of the local economy, partly through the use of EMSI’s Analyst tool. The aim is to have a curriculum which is in line with the local labour market, along with the ability to guide people into the jobs which are actually out there.
These efforts have not gone unnoticed by Ofsted, who rated the College as Good during their last inspection, singling out “particularly good IAG” and the fact that curriculum “Managers and staff use LMI very well to plan provision in their areas.” The College is hoping to become Outstanding at the next inspection and Ben is convinced that the new strategy they have in place, which includes Career Coach and Analyst, is a vital ingredient of making this happen:
“You’re not going to get an Outstanding grade with outstanding teaching and learning alone. It’s about seamless synergy between support and teaching.”
This support doesn’t end with incoming students, though. Recognising that there is a shortage of good advice being offered to young people long before they get to college age, Chesterfield have recently been working with, Shirebrook Academy, a local school rated Outstanding by Ofsted, but in an area of fairly high deprivation. Chesterfield are helping the school by enhancing and developing their existing careers service in which, amongst other things, Career Coach is giving pupils and their parents a better sense of the employment options that await them.
According to Ben, getting good advice to people of this age is essential if we are going to see those young people making good decisions that really benefit both them and the local economy:
“The pressures on FE colleges to get students on the right course and retain them on the right course and then to be able to evidence that they have gone into a positive destination is becoming more and more critical. The only way we’re going to do this is by engaging people early, through admissions or through school engagement. We need to be engaging with young people earlier in the educational journey, using tools like Carer Coach, along with our leads to local employers.”
It is great to see Chesterfield using the key position they occupy in their local economy to provide those who come through their doors, and the young people in the community, with the support and direction which has been lacking, and which will help them set out on a positive careers journey.