Careers guidance in the covid era

By Sir John Holman on

When I wrote for AoC back in July, I was cautiously optimistic about what the new academic year would bring. But October brings more sombre times: if anything, the world seems more uncertain now than it did three months ago. I want to tell you why I feel positive even so.

In my last blog I shared with you my concern that student career guidance provision (‘Careers’) could be deprioritised by senior leaders in order to keep students on track with core learning. Indeed, colleges are doing a fantastic job against the odds, keeping teaching going and supporting all their students. But I’m also pleased to say that the latest research from the Gatsby Foundation, published in September, shows that 72% of college and school leaders believe that Covid-19 has made Careers more important than ever. This is a testament to the truly holistic approach of colleges.

I also mentioned that Gatsby were going to provide more practical support to colleges, and so I am glad to point you towards Careers in Context 2020: A can-do guide, created by The Careers & Enterprise Company with support from Gatsby. It gives practical advice on how to meet the Gatsby Career Benchmarks despite all the covid challenges. This resource has been sent to all Careers Leaders via the Enterprise Adviser network, and Strategic Careers Leads can expect more support launching in Colleges week (part of the Love Our Colleges campaign). I would also recommend this article by Jasbir Sondhi, Vice Principal at Westminster Kingsway college, which outlines how their college is adapting Careers to support student needs. 

Best practice examples and tips can help Careers Leaders who are unsure how to go about delivering Careers this term, but I appreciate that, in the end, you and your staff are the only ones who know how the pandemic has hit your particular provision. 

Last week I spoke with Ronnie Burn, Head of Careers Education and Student Progress at Newcastle College, to find out more about how things are working for them. One of the striking things he said was how he’s seen that some students starting courses may already be concerned about their future job prospects, because of what they’ve seen in the media. Some of them are showing anxiety about whether they are doing the right thing at all.

While we may have guessed this to be the case it is sobering to have it confirmed, especially so soon into the new year. We cannot sit back and leave students to go through this very emotional and nerve-wracking experience unsupported – and I believe this is where Careers can shine.

Ronnie is using Careers to build confidence by helping students to set short and medium term goals, breaking down their larger ambitions into small steps that they can continue to aim for regardless of the pandemic. By focusing on immediate next steps, students can also work on some essential skills, like listening and leadership, that will stand them in good stead for any career path. These skills, once developed, are valuable through a lifetime and equip students for anything that comes ahead.  

Newcastle College are also working with the North East LEP to get students the latest labour market intelligence on what industries and jobs are still growing: there are new job opportunities opening up as old ones close down. This kind of local information is critical, and I encourage all colleges to reach out to their networks – especially LEPs - to find this sort of support.  

When I speak with Careers Leaders like Ronnie I feel buoyed, knowing that young people’s futures are in capable hands. I hope that all senior leaders in colleges will continue their support of Careers, and Careers Leaders, over the coming months, so they in turn can continue to support all students through such a challenging time. 

For updates and support around Careers policy, strategy and the latest thinking from The Careers & Enterprise Company register here

Sir John Holman is the author of The Good Career Guidance Report