An educated approach to careers – why the “Careers Leader” is at the heart of delivering the careers strategy

Comment by

STEPHEN ISHERWOOD, Chief Executive, Institute of Student Employers

Despite a whole host of Government initiatives over the past 20 years, the numbers studying STEM have flatlined. The CBI has identified the huge gap in graduate skills in STEM as the number one issue facing the UK’s competitiveness.

The research has shown that an estimated 40,000 jobs in the STEM industry go unfilled each year. This gap is still expanding and is expected to reach a shocking 1.3 million by 2030.math Put simply, not enough young people are studying maths and physics in sixth form, meaning they don’t have the skills needed for the jobs of the future.

It has been a while coming, the government’s careers strategy. But I for one am not disappointed in its contents.

Routes into work are changing, and encouraging as many students as possible to simply aim for university, fails or stalls too many people. The creation of T-levels, increasing number of apprenticeships, vocational degrees as well as the more academic routes, all offer excellent routes into meaningful work. But all too often students do not get the right information or guidance that helps them make the right choices that suit them. We know what works. The eight Gatsby benchmarks provide a template for schools and colleges to follow and not nearly enough do so at the moment. To deliver on the eight, which some do achieve so it can be done, will require leadership. Which is why I think the single most important point in the whole 36-page strategy document is that by September 2018 every school and college will have a named careers leader in post. Schools and employers share a common gripe – dealing with volume. Schools have a point when they stress how difficult it is to deal with the number of employers and third parties who approach them and how hard it is to differentiate between them.

Employers, also legitimately, talk of the volume of schools they are trying to deal with and how challenging it can be to get airtime for all their routes into work, both graduate and non-graduate. They also struggle to pick between all the third parties who approach them.

The graduate labour market is by no means perfect, but fundamentally it is mature with established structures - employers and universities broadly know how to engage with each other. We need to get to the same state with schools, colleges and employers. Delivering on all the Gatsby benchmarks requires leadership from a school or college: a ‘Careers Leader who has the energy and commitment, and backing to deliver the programme across all [Gatsby] benchmarks’.

And the careers leader will have to deliver on a number of fronts. If every student is to receive seven meaningful interactions with different employers that is going to require co-ordination. Linking curriculum learning to careers, providing access to technical learning providers, fundamentally addressing the needs of all students, will require careers leadership.

The eight Gatsby benchmarks will not be met if institutions approach their careers strategy half hearted. A meaningful careers strategy will not be implemented if it is demoted too far down the hierarchy or not given the focus it requires by leadership.

It’s in all our interests to make this work. Good career outcomes mean that our young people will find their route into careers, into work, that they enjoy, which will make them more fulfilled, which will in turn make them more productive, which will improve the UK economy.


As Chairman of the STEM campaign, Your Life, it has been our mission over the past three years to help build a solution to solve this seemingly intractable problem.

Of course three years is not enough time to fix a problem that has been so prevalent for so long. This is why we launched our final Campaign Impact Report, outlining the Your Life blueprint for STEM success as we pass the mantle on to government, schools and businesses.

It’s a result of all that we have learned, championed and hope to pass on. Like all the best recommendations, it’s about action and is founded on fact and evidence.

So what have we learnt that we can pass on? First of all, we’ve learnt that rewarding grades isn’t enough. Our research found that teenagers have been encouraged to focus on subjects where they are likely to achieve better grades because grades are what the education system reward most today. They also told us there was a significant awareness gap between the subjects they studied and the jobs available to them – and crucially, the demand and variety of jobs available in STEM

Schools need to better reward STEM through extra weighting for maths and physics in the way we measure our school’s success in order to increase their uptake. An education system that promotes subjects as well as grades in this way could have a game-changing impact.

Secondly, we recommend that we don’t narrow options too early. There is a staggering difference in the take-up in STEM A- Levels for people who opt for double versus triple science GCSE. Just a small increase in the performance

of the lowest scoring schools could help to solve this issue. When we conducted our research to inform our School Finder tool, we found that nearly 50% of schools were underperforming. According to Starcount’s* analysis of Department for Education schools data, if every school not achieving an average of 25% of A-level entries in STEM moved from their current performance to just half-way towards this goal, we would achieve 33,000 entries per year, a long way towards filling the pipeline and our bold target.

These transformations alone would have a profound impact. It is an ambitious cause, but for the sake of our young people and our nation’s future prosperity, we must change the current trajectory and dynamic.

January 2018

We can all do more to tackle to STEM skills crisis

Comment by EDWINA DUNN,

entrepreneur and Chair of the Your Life campaign

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