High-quality careers guidance is crucial for the 'class of corona'
Students are expected to leave school with lower grades, and enter a hyper-competitive job market. This isn’t a great outlook. But we can change it.
A year on from the outbreak of COVID-19, we’re starting to see consensus form about an attainment gap that is widening as a result of the pandemic. However, my work with careers leaders has shown that attainment isn’t the full story, and we need to be talking about careers education in the same breath to avoid a transitions gap forming if careers isn’t part of the conversation.
Put simply, school prepares young people for their next steps in life and their transition to adulthood. Qualifications unlock the door to further training or employment, shaping the direction of a person’s life and opening or closing different opportunities.
The ‘class of corona’ are predicted to leave school with lower grades than their peers due to months of lost learning in school and the patchy experience of remote learning. They’re also entering the labour market during a global recession triggered by COVID-19, with common sources of early-career experience in retail, food and accommodation services already largely shut down, and competition for employment more intense than ever. Understandably, this is taking a “devastating toll” on young people’s mental health, with the Prince’s Trust’s 2021 Youth Index reporting the lowest levels of youth happiness and confidence in its 12-year history.
This isn’t a great outlook. But we can change it. What young people need right now, particularly those from disadvantaged backgrounds, is high-quality careers guidance to help them make sense of what life beyond school might hold and rebuild their hopes in the future.
What can we do?
In previous blog posts, we shared some thoughts on key challenges careers leaders might face as a result of the pandemic, and how training might need to evolve to meet these challenges. A number of those predictions are being reinforced by research and practice in the sector, and our newest cohort of Careers Leader programme members are helping us develop our thinking as the situation evolves.
With the effects of the pandemic likely to stick around for some time, we’ve learnt from the challenges and are seeing some clear priorities emerge for careers leaders to give their students the best possible chance of success when they leave school.
Address the digital divide
Continue to plug the digital divide so that all young people have access to a device – not just to complete their academic work, but to hone vital career development skills. When so much of working life now takes place online, it’s imperative that we give young people the technology they need to write an electronic CV and covering letter, fill out online application forms, browse job websites, practice virtual assessments and interviews, and attend virtual careers talks with prospective employers and attend online events. The Virtual Careers Fair held during National Careers Week (1-6 March) is a great example of this.
Utilise technology to bridge the gap with employers
Embrace technology to offer students as many opportunities to engage with employers as possible, even when workplaces are closed. Young people from disadvantaged backgrounds have the most to gain from increasing their knowledge of the world of work, and the most to lose when this provision is removed. By utilising technology to bridge this gap, we can support students to develop their networks, challenge underlying assumptions and transform aspirations for the future. Some of our key supporters in business have kindly shared virtual careers talks to get you started:
Ensure the curriculum develops young people’s skills
Employers consistently highlight a skills gap within the workforce, with young workers lacking the hands-on skills and real-life experience make a successful transition into the workplace. However, building skills into the curriculum can help young people to develop competencies that employers value and understand how to apply their skills in different scenarios – giving them an edge in a challenging job market. With new research establishing a wage premium of £3,400 per year for young adults with higher essential skills scores, it’s clear that if we want to tackle inequalities exacerbated by COVID-19, skill development needs to be part of our arsenal.
Talk to students about their aspirations
Encourage all teachers to talk to students (and their parents/carers) about their career aspirations and the world of work. Many young people, particularly those from the most disadvantaged backgrounds, don’t find it easy to talk to adults about their career hopes and dreams, and have limited networks of acquaintances and mentors to draw on for advice. Teachers can enhance the social capital of young people by simply talking to students about their career interests and sharing their own knowledge of life and work. With researchers linking teacher-student discussions with more success in the early career phase, this is an easy win that all teachers should feel able to implement in their classroom.
Support the most vulnerable
Regularly review the school's careers programme with the careers team to make sure that it addresses the needs of each pupil, with particular attention given to those from disadvantaged backgrounds and those likely to become NEET (young people not Not in Education, Employment or Training). With a worrying half of those not in education or training being unable to see an end to their unemployment, and “always or often feeling hopeless”, it’s vital that schools, advisers, employers and partner agencies work together to offer intensive support for the most vulnerable.
How can we provide support?
The Institute for Fiscal Studies warns that the 'class of corona' could lose £40,000 in earnings due to learning loss and lower skills or qualifications. This doesn’t have to happen. If we can continue to raise the importance of transitions and attainment, work in partnership to plug the digital divide, and deliver high-quality training for all careers leaders, we can avoid this picture becoming a reality and support all young people to make a successful transition into adulthood.
Find out more about the Careers Leader programme and apply for the 21/22 cohort: