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How advisers in Suffolk are helping to provide the right advice when choosing a career

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It’s the question everyone faces as they look towards the end of full time education ... how do I find a job that works for me?

Some know from an early age the path they want to take and go on to fulfil their childhood dreams. But for many the future can feel a daunting and confusing place.

Go back a few decades and most school leavers were lucky to get 15 minutes with a teacher doubling as the careers adviser.

Careers Reframed conerence - some of the delegates
Careers Reframed conerence - some of the delegates

The suggestions on offer – especially for non-university candidates – were limited to say the least.

And they stuck strictly to the gender divide. Hairdresser, secretary, nurse, for girls. Plumber, electrician, or mechanic for boys only.

Often you might as well have decided your future by sticking a pin in the ‘situations vacant’ column of the local paper ... which is pretty much what a lot of people did.

Careers Reframed conference - the careers marketplace
Careers Reframed conference - the careers marketplace

Today the choices can seem endless, with technology for one thing opening up vast new horizons.

But careers guidance in Suffolk now starts sooner and has a much wider scope than ever before.

“There have been a lot of changes in the last 10 years,” said Jacqui Phipps, careers lead for Suffolk County Council.

A conference for careers leaders and advisers took place at the University of Suffolk in Ipswich in the last couple of weeks – the first one since the start of Covid and attended by 130 people.

It was a collaboration between Suffolk County Council, the university, and New Anglia Local Enterprise Partnership, which are all working to improve outcomes for young people.

Jacqui, who organised the event said: “The Careers Reframed conference was a wonderful opportunity for learning and discussion surrounding careers education and developments in the field.

“Attendees were treated to an inspiring talk from Professor Tristram Hooley about how careers work has an essential part to play in not only improving the chances of individuals, but also in bringing about a fairer society.

“They also participated in workshops on subjects such as resources for SEND clients, frameworks for implementing high quality career education, careers in the ‘green economy’ and how to balance career and life.

“In the spirit of career development, five young people aged between 14 and 18 were invited to volunteer at the event as hosts, introductory speakers and photographers, which allowed them to develop valuable professional skills.

“Asha, Alex, Hannah, Lilli and Andrew all gained work experience and established connections with potential future employers, education or training providers.

“I’m really proud of them. They are a credit to themselves and their schools,” said Jacqui. Student ambassadors and a county council intern also helped out.

Careers guidance in many Suffolk schools follows the Gatsby Benchmarks which set out what good provision should look like.

Careers Reframed conference - young helpers .Asha, Alex, Hannah, Lilli, and Andrew. with Jacqui Phipps, Josie Finch and Caroline Rayner – the conference organisers
Careers Reframed conference - young helpers .Asha, Alex, Hannah, Lilli, and Andrew. with Jacqui Phipps, Josie Finch and Caroline Rayner – the conference organisers

The benchmarks cover having a stable careers programme, and learning about the jobs market.

Linking curriculum learning to careers is a crucial requirement, as is addressing the needs of each student – embedding equality and diversity concerns throughout.

Encounters with further and higher education, employers and employees, and gaining experience of workplaces are also vital.

And all students should have personal guidance interviews with a careers adviser trained to an appropriate level.

Jacqui said: “There should be something in the curriculum so every young person will have careers lessons, and the opportunity to learn what’s coming up in their own area, nationally, and globally.

“Workplace encounters could be traditional work experience, or broadened to having employers in school to give talks, visiting places of work, or virtual work experience or inspiration.

“People giving guidance should be qualified. It means 18 months to two years intensive training.

“It’s not about telling young people what to do. It’s helping them to explore their strengths and weaknesses, lifestyle choices and motivation.

“They also learn how to write a CV and fill in an application form.

“A good adviser would have knowledge of all of that, and what jobs are out there.

“Pupils should have at least one interview before the end of Year 11, at least 45 minutes to an hour.

“Some may need more because they haven’t a clue what they want to do, or are not motivated. From age 16 to 18 they also may need more interviews.

“Schools advice might be part of a tutor session, or a whole day with employers and college people coming in, or careers lessons and days when they do mock interviews – it’s woven into timetables in different ways.

“That would be the role of the careers leader – a different job from an adviser – who would probably be a teacher.

“We also have a guide for Year 11 parents which we have just reprinted, and are redoing our labour market resources for teachers and young people.

“Careers advice should happen from Year 7. We have also done some work in primary schools because research has shown people make up their minds, or dismiss certain things, quite early.

“We are trying to open their minds that there is a lot more out there than they think.

“Research shows they think of accountants, doctors, nurses, media, it can be very narrow.

“With ideas like girls in engineering – although that happens more than it used to – is still quite gendered.

“You never stop learning as a careers adviser,” added Jacqui, who is herself qualified to do the job.

“At Suffolk County Council we have trained many of our own advisers in Suffolk and Norfolk.”

Careers Reframed conference - speaker Professor Tristram Hooley
Careers Reframed conference - speaker Professor Tristram Hooley

She believes careers advice should not just be aimed at getting someone their first job, but should also look down the line to possible future changes.

“Managing your career is a lifelong job, so how you are going to move between jobs should also be included. So many people don’t stay with one career now.”

Ideas about possible jobs are also available online. “We have a website called I Can Be A ... which is a Norfolk and Suffolk labour market information site with lots on employers on there which gives young people and idea of what jobs are out there.”

Helping those with disabilities fulfil their potential is also a big concern.

“The aim is to get young people with disabilities to make the most of their abilities in the world of work,” said Jacqui.

“The resources to use with SEND (special educational needs or disability) students, and how to use them, is our most popular workshop.”

Careers guidance should also include alerting young people to the possibilities on offer in higher education.

“With the post-16 pathways, everyone knows about A-levels, but then there are T-levels – that’s a new one, more practical and a work placement element with them as well. There’s a lot of vocational stuff out there as well.

“There is a huge drive to get young people into apprenticeships now as well, almost equal to the higher education drive. There is a lot of support for getting young people into apprenticeships.

“We have a team, Apprenticeships Suffolk, supporting young people to apply, and also get businesses to think if they could offer a job as an apprenticeship rather than just a normal job.”

One of the responsibilities of Suffolk’s education authority is to support young people not in education, employment or training, known by the acronym NEET.

“It involves people up to 18 or 19, or 24 if they have special needs or are a child in care,” said Jacqui.

“We have responsibilities around this, we have to collect data and send it to the Department of Education. for instance about the percentage of people affected.

“We have young person’s workers. and we still go on door knocks, make phone calls, and send letters offering help.

“Then they could get some careers guidance, or re-engagement programmes. There are quite a lot of organisations around at the moment who are offering that very individual support.

“It’s important we don’t let them slip through the net, it isn’t good for them or for society.”

When it comes to the jobs market, Suffolk has its own challenges. “It is quite rural and doesn’t have many big employers. Most are SMEs (Small and Medium Enterprises). Lack of transport is another issue.”

Jacqui feels the generation now on the brink of employment could face a tougher time due to disruption of their schooling caused by Covid.

“In general terms – and here in Suffolk too – we have seen a huge rise in mental health issues for young people which is making them demotivated.

“Those doing their A-levels at the moment have never done a public exam before,” she said.

Jacqui is passionate about giving people all possible help to find the right career, and believes the work generally should be better funded and valued more.

“We need to promote that this is a really important area for young people in schools and who are out of work. A job is so important to our identity. When you meet people the first question is often ‘what do you do?’”

To access the ‘I Can Be a ...’ website go to www.icanbea.org.uk