Careers Service (Young People)

Part of Opposition Day — [20th Allotted Day] – in the House of Commons at 9:35 pm on 13th September 2011.

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Photo of Damian Hinds Damian Hinds Conservative, East Hampshire 9:35 pm, 13th September 2011

So much to say, and so little time to say it in.

Many of the contributions from Opposition Members have been about bad careers advice, stereotyping and ambition limiting. The unfortunate point is that guaranteeing that it will be provided face to face does not get rid of bad advice; all that guarantees is that the advice will be heard more directly. The title of this debate displayed on the annunciator is “Careers Service (Young People)”, but doing real service to young people in their careers is about much more than specifying a certain amount of time with the man from the council. It only happens when the whole education system and the economy work together on young people’s careers. We must take a much bigger, broader, holistic view of this at a national level, in industry, throughout the education system and in interaction with individual young people.

As we know, we live in a rapidly changing world that has already changed in many ways, not least through the disappearance of many jobs that young people used to do between the ages of 16 and 18 and in terms of the types of skills we need for the jobs that we expect to be available in the future. As Andy Burnham rightly said, the range of different jobs that people might now do over their lifetime calls for much more flexibility.

We do not have a great record in this country, historically, of picking winners, but we need to recognise that certain industries will be growth industries at which we need to excel. Without exception they are industries that need greater skills, and we need to help young people to focus on them. We need better links between industry and education, both so industries can inspire young people to want to go and work in them and so that the skills sets that come out of the education system include the things they need as companies, and that we need as an economy and as a country to succeed in the world. There also needs to be a feedback mechanism so that companies and sectors can tell the education system what they are looking for. We often hear complaints about what comes out, but it is not quite so clear what the mechanism for change is.

There must also be opportunities, of course, for young people to experience, sample and gain experience and training in firms, and I welcome the expansion in apprenticeships and work placements. I agree that we must look again at how the internship system works. We have heard about internships from Opposition Members, and a number of Members of Parliament have taken the decision that they will ensure that internships are paid, so that they are available to the full range of young people.

Education as a whole must guide young people towards fulfilling careers. I was surprised that the right hon. Member for Leigh left colleges out of the motion, as they are an important part of the education system. He referred only to schools, but of course the whole system must work effectively. I do not think anybody could doubt the Government’s commitment to reforming the education system, both to raise the average level of education and, crucially, to narrow the yawning and embarrassing gap between rich and poor.

I am afraid that in parts of the education system too many young people have not been guided towards fulfilling careers. Let me quote the Wolf report:

“The staple offer for between a quarter and a third of the post-16 cohort is a diet of low-level vocational qualifications, most of which have little to no labour market value.”

At an even earlier stage—coming up to key stage 4—it seems that some young people are guided towards subjects that will boost the school’s performance in the league tables more than they might boost the individual’s performance in the job market and their opportunities through life. Perhaps they get face-to-face advice: perhaps somebody tells them that all GCSE subjects will be worth the same to them as any other; perhaps somebody tells them that equivalencies will always be accepted in the outside world; and perhaps somebody tells them that getting a GCSE in accountancy, law or financial services is a key step to starting a career in one of those professions.

I welcome what the Government are doing to publish destination data on schools as well as more information on higher education institutions, and I also welcome the reform of the key stage 4 league tables. I also welcome the somewhat controversial—in parts—English baccalaureate. The simple fact is that those core subjects have a premium value among employers and higher education institutions, and we should stop fibbing to young people. It is not a full curriculum. There is plenty of room for options on top of the English baccalaureate, but the best advice we can give to a young person who wants to keep their options as open as possible is to include in what they study those core academic subjects. Of course it will not be for everyone, and I also welcome the Government’s moves to ensure that the league tables and metrics recognise equally the progress of every child. We must find new and better ways to ensure that post-16 students are more engaged with mathematics.

In conclusion, the motion talks about guaranteeing good careers advice. I put it to you, Mr Speaker, that the only way to guarantee a good careers service for young people is if all the elements—at national level, in industry, in education, and direct advice for people—are working in concert.