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The Welsh Government’s recent announcement on the provision of careers advice makes the case for an Independent Commission on guidance and support all the more pressing, says Victoria Winckler
In the Assembly’s Christmas recess, Welsh Ministers announced a ‘revised approach’ to the ‘control, management and funding of Careers Wales’. This announcement doesn’t give much away, but signals that there are shifts in Careers Wales’s management of resources and funding.
Organisationally, the careers service has been in a state of semi-permanent revolution.
In the mid 1990s, careers advice was effectively privatised by being removed from local authority control and placed in seven companies that roughly corresponded with the then county councils. Devolution brought the formation of Careers Wales in 2001, with the seven companies operating within the Careers Wales remit and brand. Fast forward to 2013 and the seven careers companies were wound up and Careers Wales became ‘Careers Choices Dewis Gyrfa, a company limited by guarantee which is wholly-owned by the Welsh Government.
A few years into the operation of Careers Choices Dewis Gyrfa and Ministers are looking at “set of strategic options for the future direction of the company”. One of the options that has found favour appears to be competitive tender, with the provision of advice to the new Employability and Apprenticeship Programme up for grabs.
Add to this, Careers Wales has seen its funding cut dramatically. According to UNISON, Careers Wales’ core funding from Welsh Government has fallen from £42 million to £18 million in five years.
Does it matter? In a word, yes.
The review of evidence of ‘what works’ commissioned by the Joseph Rowntree Foundation found that provision of good quality, expert advice and support to people of all ages (not just school-leavers) could make a big difference to whether someone moved out of poverty.For this reason, the report on solving poverty in Wales included a specific recommendation that the provision of careers advice should be significantly enhanced.
And boy is this needed!
Dig a bit deeper into the world of careers and you’ll find gaps and duplication of provision.
In schools, it is schools themselves who are responsible for the provision of careers education (Careers Wales does the ‘guidance’). It is at school that young people make critical – and often career limiting – decisions. Careers Wales has an ‘offer’ for schools with 136 of Wales’ 205 secondaries achieving the Careers Wales Quality Mark, according to its annual report. But for many children, it’s still down to Mr Jones the PE teacher to tell you you how to become an astrophysicist or lawyer or whatever.
Young people can also access Careers Wales’ services, although the Welsh Government’s remit letter to Careers Wales makes clear that the priorities are those with the most challenging circumstances e.g. young people in the justice system, with statements of special educational need or unemployed 16-17 year olds.
Employment ‘schemes’ such as Work Programme or Bridges to Work often have access to guidance and support as part of the programme, not least as it is in the providers’ interest to get participants into a job (probably any job).
And the rest of the population of Wales? Well, you can try Careers Wales adult skills gateway should, as an adult, you think of looking on the Careers Wales website and know what an ‘skills gateway’ is. But chances are you don’t, and so you’ll rely on family, friends and colleagues if you need help with a change of direction.
Why an Independent Commission?
With the careers service’s turbulent history and the considerable gaps in provision, the JRF report called for an independent commission on the provision of advice and guidance.
It’s not clear exactly what the Welsh Government’s decision involves still less what the implications are, but with a risk of further turbulence and fragmentation of provision, the case for an independent commission to ensure that young people and adults get good quality information and advice is compelling.
So far with the announcement made in the Assembly recess, no news coverage of it that I can find, and no questions about it in the Senedd, the lack of investment, gaps and fragmentation that passes for careers guidance looks set to continue.
Victoria Winckler is Director of the Bevan Foundation