James Uffindell, CEO and founder of Bright Network

National Careers Week - Equal Access to Career Guidance

It’s National Careers Week: a nationwide campaign that promotes good careers guidance in schools, colleges and universities, ensuring that all students in the UK are informed and empowered to make key career decisions.

Lack Of National Standard For Career Guidance

In the past, careers guidance has been overlooked in our education system, and there is a lack of national standard or curriculum throughout all schools and colleges. This resulting inconstancy can create an inequality of opportunity for students, with access to good careers guidance can be a lottery to young people, dependent on the school they attend, their social background and even their postcode. It can be the case that those who attend the most poorly-funded schools miss out on the informative career advice afforded to others.

This is causing a disconnect in British society between the brightest graduate talent and the best employment opportunities. Research from the Institute of Student Employers found last year that while 91% of the general population is state-educated, only 57% of those hired on the top graduate schemes come from state schools. This is a huge disparity and highlights the dominance of privately educated young people in the leading businesses.

Improving Diversity Through Good Education

If we are to improve diversity, we need to find solutions to ensure students’ backgrounds do not inhibit their access to top jobs. The passion and incentive is there but the mechanisms of how to achieve it are lacking.

Top graduate employers have improving diversity high on their agenda. They want to break down barriers that are not only holding students back from achieving their career potential but are preventing businesses from developing the most innovative and creative ideas that come with fresh perspectives in a diverse and dynamic workforce.

Despite diversity and inclusion goals being on businesses’ radar, this is not yet reflected of their graduate cohorts.

Solving the diversity problems within businesses will require a multifaceted solution.  The answer is not simple but one part of the mission will be ensuring students are receiving the attention and support from education and business networks so they can make informed decisions. 

From choosing the correct A Levels and completing relevant work experience, to advice on how to fill out lengthy and complex application forms and interview practice, to simply networking and conversing with workers in industry – strong career guidance and support can make all the difference when it comes to securing a first job.

40% Of State-educated Students Feel Hindered By Their Background

The failure to provide this can inhibit confidence and can disadvantage young people. For example, Bright Network’s annual survey of 3,000+ found that last year, 40% of state-educated respondent felt their background could hinder them in getting a graduate role. Amongst BAME students, this number rose to 47%. 

In addition to this, students who attended a state-school were found to be 11% more likely on average to feel that a lack of network or industry contacts is their biggest barrier to pursuing their chosen career path.

What these statistics demonstrate is that regardless of academic achievement, many young people feel they lack key routes into the workplace including a strong network, contacts and useful career guidance and support.

Not everybody has access to the advice and networks necessary to get a foot on the career ladder: all young people, regardless of their economic and social background, ethnicity, sexuality, disability and gender deserve the best advice. Demystifying industries through information and contacts is invaluable and we will all benefit from businesses that represent our wider population, rather than the most privileged in society.

Quality education for all is the key to social mobility. However, good schooling extends beyond the classroom: informative, comprehensive career guidance combined with excellent teaching is the most effective means for preparing students for the workforce.

Talent Shortages Highlight The Need For A National Strategy

The diversity problem needs to be a priority for businesses. Every year in the UK, there are an astounding 70,000 unfilled graduate vacancies, and 50% of leading firms fail to find the graduate talent they need to grow.

This negatively affects our industries too as without top talent filling job vacancies, their potential to innovate and grow is hindered.  National Careers Week is an opportunity to shine a light on the need for a national strategy that puts providing quality career advice for all students, regardless of their background, at the forefront of business and education agendas.

It is time for businesses to identify where and why they aren’t achieving their diversity and inclusion goals and to join together with educators to prepare students with support. Businesses hold a stake in careers education; it is in their interest that the next generation is equipped to perform in the world of work, in a job they are confident in.

The issue goes beyond graduate level and has long lasting implications. If we want to see business diversity and inclusion at board level in the future. We must ensure that businesses are recruiting from a wider pool of talent at entry level, and those from all backgrounds have the confidence and skills to break through. This is a key way to change the culture at the top organisations, in turn enabling advancement and driving social and economic progress.

Unlocking Huge Benefits For Individuals And Businesses Alike

It is the responsibility of educators and education policy makers to ensure that all schools offer quality career services. Placing career education on the curriculum should provide clear goals and guidance. Steps such as employing career advisors to run workshops with students, teaching students how to write CVs and prepare for interviews, inviting industry experts and business leaders to speak to students about future opportunities and also setting up networking opportunities for students, all would have a really positive impact on students’ confidence in exploring career opportunities.

We must connect ambitious young people from all backgrounds with the best opportunities. If we can inspire the next generation and give them the tools they need to find their future through good careers guidance across the board, we will be unlocking huge benefits for individuals and businesses alike.

James Uffindell, CEO and founder of Bright Network

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