Michael Britland holding a cup of tea
Michael Britland
Careers Programme Lead at Teach First

Careers Leadership after COVID-19

COVID-19 will transform schools' careers strategies. Michael Britland explores the challenges ahead, and how schools can tap into new opportunities.

In the battle to achieve your careers strategy objectives, the two most powerful warriors are patience and time.

Over the past few months, we’ve all tested our patience and will need to continue doing so into the next academic year. What careers leaders, parents and (most notably) students need more of is time, to make those all-important decisions regarding their futures. For students who attend schools in the most challenging circumstances, time is a luxury not afforded to them. Already at a disadvantage, the current circumstances are only making the situation worse. As the number of people who form the precariat increases, the challenges ahead are daunting.

How do we address the issues that these students face from a careers perspective? Are these challenges unique to the current COVID-19 outbreak, or have they merely been exacerbated by it?

What is clear is that the world of employment - on both a local and national level - is in flux. It is incumbent on careers professionals to help students and parents make sense of an uncertain situation.

Work experience in a post-COVID-19 world

Where do they start? Examining these exacerbated issues, we can focus on four key challenges most careers leaders face.

The first is work experience. It remains a challenge for senior school leaders to find time and space in the curriculum for students to participate. In an already crowded curriculum, where the focus has been on ensuring GCSE learning is limited to Year 10 and 11, Careers Leaders may well find it a difficult sell. Should the sale be successful, Careers Leaders will no doubt find that workplace restrictions will not be relaxed for sectors. This in turn creates a disparity of opportunities for those students with particular career ambitions.

School leaders will also need to try and find time to plug the inevitable academic learning gap created by the digital divide. It is possible this additional learning may eat into time used to provide much needed careers information, advice and guidance. However, this may also be an opportunity to embed careers education into schemes of learning, illustrating examples of the LMI outlook and ensuring there is a reconnection between what students want and what is available to them in the post COVID-19 world.

Managing Destinations Data and NEETS

The second and third exacerbated challenges are inextricably linked: Destinations Data and NEETS. They are two sides of the same coin; calling the right side correctly will have a positive effect on the other. Recording and tracking student Destinations is of paramount importance to a school as it is, alongside NEET data: a quantifiable way for schools to illustrate the effectiveness of their Careers curriculum.

However, in a post COVID-19 world, where Year 11 have already flown the nest, many schools will have very uncertain data sets on where students intend to be next year, never mind three years ahead. Additionally, many schools will not have been able to support vulnerable students in attending or applying for college, job or training interviews or placements. Some colleges have offered virtual tours of campuses, but the students most uncomfortable in attending physical tours are also more likely not to have access to the digital platforms to participate.

Careers guidance interviews

The fourth and final challenge are careers guidance interviews. Well-structured and planned interviews are becoming commonplace in schools, even if access to Level 6 trained advisers remains an issue. However, schools are going to find it difficult to make up the shortfall in the time allocated to interviewing all students, providing them with useable action plans and building time to follow up on them. The time-related challenges here can be directly linked to those mentioned earlier.

Embracing technology

In many ways I have painted a bleak picture of a post-apocalyptic careers landscape. But with all paradigm shifts, opportunities and solutions present themselves. We have all become more tech-savvy over the past few months, and as much as technology is not a remedy to the issues illustrated, it should be examined as a possible solution - and even embraced.

There’s a high likelihood that students will face digital interviews on platforms like Zoom or Teams. Why not allow students to access to these platforms for careers guidance appointments, providing them their statutory provision alongside practical experience of technology. This could also be utilised with mock interviews and to virtual work experience, such as those offered by Barclays LifeSkills and Speakers For Schools.

Although technology should rarely be seen as preferable to physical experience, it does allow rural schools and students the possibility to access workplaces or sectors that would otherwise be prohibitively difficult. Furthermore, as more companies allow their employees the freedom to work from home, allowing students access to the digital platforms that facilitate this, can only make them more employable.

It is understandable that people feel anxious about sending our young people out into the uncertain world we now inhabit. We need to resist the urge to be consumed by these anxieties and recognise that although we have more challenges than we did before, we also have more opportunities. It should be stated loud and clear that providing students with access to an outstanding careers curriculum is more important now that it has ever been - being armed with patience and time is what we need to deliver this. 

For more information on Teach First's Careers Leader programme, click here.

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