What should a new lifelong learning strategy include? – HE, FE, national, local, inequality and opportunity.
Dame Ruth Silver DBE and Dr Deirdre Hughes OBE
Societies everywhere are undergoing a deep transformation. The Covid-19 pandemic, Industry 4.0 disruption, climate change, and an ageing workforce have become realities impacting on the UK’s social, cultural and economic fabric. These and other key factors are being acutely felt in many local households and communities. Research evidence shows those low skilled, low qualified, women, BAME and young people are most adversely affected.
A new lifelong learning strategy must include: a strong focus on high-quality careers information, advice and specialist guidance support (CIAG) to increase and spread opportunities and eradicate barriers to learning and work. This vital component cannot be left simply to chance. Employers need to be able to attract the right talent for their businesses to maintain their competitive edge. Individuals need to be able to fulfil their potential with barriers removed to progression. England is lagging behind other home nations’ careers support systems (and those further afield). Fragmentation of services, inequitable access and inadequate signposting to local careers support for young people and adults, and the erosion of professionally trained careers advisers strongly indicates it’s time for a rethink!
The OECD highlights ‘sticky floors’ and ‘sticky ceilings’ exist, fuelling inequalities of income and social mobility[i]. Also, the World Bank reminds us of the notion of a’ new poor’ forced into poverty as a result of Covid (World Bank, 2020)[ii]. For example, the ‘new poor’ range from teenagers upwards, people most likely to live in congested urban settings, and those likely to be displaced from sectors in which economic activity is most affected by lockdowns and social distancing. A new strategy must support personal and economic growth and include: more equitable and transparent access to and promotion of national and local careers support for young people and adults. For example, there is evidence of inequity in provision across many cities and towns. If we look across to Wales[iii] (see also: #WorkingWales) and Scotland[iv] we can already see highly visible national careers services (with TV advertising campaigns raising opportunity awareness) working in strong local community partnerships that offer hope and practical support to individuals and employers in the aftermath of Covid.
Ways of working are changing e.g., McKinsey’s latest report highlights 3 mega trends (i) hybrid remote work could continue e.g., 3-5 days a week working from home (mainly computer-based office work); (ii) a growth in e-commerce and ‘the delivery economy’ – with disruption of jobs in hospitality, travel, leisure, ‘bricks and mortar’ stores e.g., last week’s Debenhams closure means up to 12,000 staff have lost their jobs. To some extent, this has been offset by Amazon creating 10,000 new jobs but people will need to know ‘where are the new opportunities and how do I improve my prospects?’; (iii) AI and machine learning in manufacturing, warehouses, self-service robots, and new software applications brings new ways of learning and delivering services.
A new strategy must include: a stronger focus on labour market intelligence gathering (we can no longer rely on historical LMI trends). Approaches such as destinations, crowdsourcing, harnessing the knowledge of careers and employability advisers, alongside greater use of digital advancements like ‘career chatbots’ powered by AI and machine learning[v]. We also need ‘humans in the loop’.
There is a certain irony for young people who, in many cases, are better educated than their parents and grandparents. OECD evidence shows that more than one quarter of 15-year-olds cannot say what job they expect to do by age 30. A comparison of results for 2000 and 2018 from PISA data shows that career uncertainty has risen by 81% across the OECD since the turn of the century” (OECD, p.7)[vi]. A new strategy must include: the future development of England’s National Careers Service, Work coach programme (DWP) and Careers and Enterprise Company (CEC) policies co-owned and assisted by a cross-departmental taskforce/advisory body with a clear governance structure. Many young people outside of school-term times and those most disadvantaged in areas of social deprivation have fallen through the many cracks in the current system. At present, we have to wait 18 months before we know more about how CEC and the National Careers Service align. Some reimagining how all the component parts fit together from the citizen perspective is urgently required.
The recent Queen’s Speech included a ‘Lifetime Skills Guarantee’ described as a ‘skills revolution’ in the form of flexible loans and a promise to strengthen jobs. You can’t ‘level up’ across England by simply offering more FE or level 3 training courses (though greatly needed and much appreciated). High skills are increasing important in the wake of the pandemic and digital advancements, but to get there many people will careers support and understanding of differing pathways (including level 1 & 2 provision) to make good decisions. With complexity comes the need for knowledgeable and skilful ‘navigators’, ‘coaches’, and ‘careers advisers (specialists) for those with complex needs. A new strategy must include: a well-trained and highly skilled careers and employability workforce that adhere to quality standards. There should be a commitment to a more diverse workforce, quality-assured IAG, professional standards and code of ethics with shared digital and other specialist training for careers and employability workers. The strategy must recognise the importance of the work-based route in these professions (leading to a level 6 or above qualification). For example, SDS in Scotland support Masters’ and PhD students to build R&D capacity in the careers eco-system. The German PES has a HE ‘centre of excellence’ focusing on lifelong learning and digital skills.
The careers experiment in England certainly needs a refresh. In a new lifelong learning strategy: The ‘knowledge hexagon’ between education, businesses, training providers, trade unions, careers and employability professionals should be strengthened as a condition for lifelong learning to achieve improved productivity, economic and social wellbeing. More ‘leaderhood’ needed dealing with wicked questions for achieving quality-assured lifelong careers support. No more sticky floors or sticky ceilings – instead a lifelong learning uprising that ensures no-one is left behind.
Contact: Dame Ruth Silver DBE
 Career guidance often takes place at transition points for an individual and can be regarded as reactive. Lifelong learning and guidance, however, takes a more proactive, perspective towards career. It is a process that individuals can engage with throughout their lives and encompasses the development of strategies, competences and skills to manage transitions.
 Another alternative, in other Celtic home nations, careers and lifelong learning resides with Departments for the Economy with strong working links to Education Departments.
[i] OECD, 2018 – The Broken Social Elevator: How to Promote Social Mobility – ‘sticky floors’ prevent people from moving up the social elevator and ‘sticky ceilings’ – Individuals with higher educated parents tend to have better educational outcomes in terms of literacy and numeracy than those whose parents have low educational achievement. For instance, numeracy scores are almost 20% higher for those with parents with higher socio-economic status, representing more than three years of equivalent additional schooling.
[ii] World Bank Group (2020). Reversals of Fortune: Poverty and Shared Prosperity 2020 – https://www.worldbank.org/en/publication/poverty-and-shared-prosperity
[iii] Brighter Futures 2021 -2026 – https://careerswales.gov.wales/about-us/brighter-futures
[iv] SDS Advertising campaign – https://www.skillsdevelopmentscotland.co.uk/news-events/2019/november/take-control-of-your-career-journey/
[v] For example, CiCi – the 24:7 careers chatbot offers trustworthy careers information and advice 24:7 with the option of connecting with a human adviser if needed – https://careerchat.uk/ See also: Bob the bot –
[vi] OECD (2021). Career Ready: How schools can better prepare young people for working life in the era of Covid-19, February 2021 – https://www.oecd-ilibrary.org/education/career-ready_e1503534-en