David Andrews and Tristram Hooley
Why does good quality career support matter?
We are learning about our careers all the time. The next time you stand up in front of a class, some students will be deciding that they want to be a teacher or a careers professional, while others will be deciding that this is something that they definitely don’t want to do. Pretty much everything that happens in our life has the potential to influence our thinking about our career. Young people are soaking up these influences all of the time, from the internet, the TV, their parents and their friends. But, these kinds of influences tend to be limited by young people’s own networks and by the media that they are exposed to. This means that there are whole areas of the labour market that young people never hear about and that lots of what they do learn about how work operates is second hand and filtered through fairly unreliable sources. TV is full of dramas and comedies about hospitals and various kinds of cop shows, but your students would be well advised to view these as, at best, a very partial source of career information. This is even true of the so-called ‘reality’ shows which students might be inclined to trust more. Your careers programme should engage with these media representations, but also offer some alternatives.
Resources: Using the media
Although it is a very bad idea to get all of your career information from the popular media, this doesn’t mean that you should ignore it altogether. TV programmes and internet memes have a huge influence on young people and it is worth spending time in your careers programme reflecting on what messages young people are receiving. Sometimes, this might be about helping young people to realise the dreams that TV programmes have inspired them to, at other times it might be about correcting misinformation or providing a bit of wider context. Most importantly you should be trying to develop young people’s skills to explore, critique, supplement and act on the career information that they find in the media.
How can I make good practice a reality in school or college?
One simple thing that you can be doing as a Careers Leader is trying to make sure that young people are exposed to opportunities to find out about and experience careers and educational routes that they might not otherwise have experienced. There are real benefits for those young people who experience more, and more diverse, career support. A lot of learning comes through repetition and through building on previous experiences. So, hearing from one employer might not have an impact, but regular encounters with employers throughout school starts to have a real impact. 
However, just increasing the quantity and diversity of career support is not enough. It is also important to attend to the quality of the support that is offered. There are a few questions that you should be asking about any activity, encounter or experience that you organise to ensure that it is good quality.
- What is this activity designed to achieve?
- How will we maximise students’ opportunity to learn from participating in this activity?
- How does this activity fit with everything else that students have done in the careers programme and in the wider curriculum?
- Are we doing this often enough and for long enough to really make a difference?
- Have we done this before and how well did it work?
- What is the role that we are asking the students to play in this activity?
- Who is going to lead this activity?
- How are we going to involve employers and/or learning providers in delivering this activity?
- How can we adapt this activity so that it addresses the needs of different students?
- How will we provide participants with feedback on what they have done?
Asking these kinds of questions about any activity that you organise will help to ensure that your school or college’s careers provision is high quality.
Why does the role of a Careers Leader matter?
So, as a Careers Leader you need to work to ensure that your students get access to a wide range of high quality career learning activities. However, there is a danger that as the number of careers activities grow they become repetitive and confusing for students. Increasingly frantic activity doesn’t necessarily result in more career learning. In fact, sometimes the opposite can be the case as students get lost in a blizzard of information. This highlights your most important role as a Careers Leader: you are the person who designs the programme of career education and who provides the glue that sticks all of the different pieces of your programme together.
A good careers programme is progressive. It links together different activities in a logical order and creates a pathway for students to learn about their careers. How you design your school or college’s careers programme is up to you. You should be influenced by the type of institution, the level of engagement of the staff, the proximity of employers and universities and a host of other factors. Because of this it is right and proper that every careers programme is different.
 There is lots of research on the value of employer engagement in education. Mann, A. , Stanley, J. and Archer, L. (Eds.). Understanding Employer Engagement in Education. London & New York: Routledge is a very good place to start if you are interested in finding out more about this body of research.
Taken from The Careers Leader Handbook: How to create an outstanding careers programme for your school or college
By: David Andrews and Tristram Hooley
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