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More than the sum of the parts? Challenges for Scotland’s career ecosystem

Internationally, Scotland is recognised as having a strong career guidance system.

The combination of well-trained careers professionals, government support for careers and a wide level of access to provision means that there is much to celebrate. But the Career Review is highlighting the need to avoid complacency and to focus on how we can ensure that provision is fit for purpose.

Working with my colleagues Chris Percy and Dr Rosie Alexander (University of the West of Scotland), I was asked to investigate career provision in Scotland. In this blog I will set out what we found and highlight some key challenges.

Understanding career support in Scotland

Scotland’s career services include lots of different forms of support. On one hand, there is the high-quality career guidance offered by trained career professionals. On the other, there are millions of career conversations going on every year between teachers, youth workers, college lecturers, Jobcentre staff and the young people they work with.

We grouped the myriad of ways in which young people are supported in their careers as follows:

Tristram 2021
  • Information (I) about education, learning choices and society;
  • Advice (A) delivered by a wide range of supporters and helpers;
  • Guidance (G) delivered by qualified careers professionals;
  • Education (Ed) programmes that help young people learn about career whilst in education;
  • Employability programmes (Em) that support young people to find their way to work and learning; and
  • Brokerage (B) and experiential career learning, such as forms of work experience and employer engagement.

We then looked for where this activity takes place across Scotland and were overwhelmed with the range of career services available. We estimate that Scotland is spending around £240 million a year on providing career services. This equates to around £160 a year for each young person. This funding supports services that are delivered through Skills Development Scotland, Developing the Young Workforce partnerships, Scottish government national programmes, Jobcentre Plus / DWP, local authorities, higher education, further education colleges, schools and a range of other actors including private, public and third sector providers.

The range of provision is impressive, but we were left with the question as to how complementary and how well co-ordinated this array of activities is.

Key challenges

Despite the impressive volume and range of career provision in Scotland we identified a range of challenges and tensions that exist within the system.

Firstly, there is the question as to what career services are trying to achieve. Are they helping students to move through key points of transition or to build a lifelong career? Are they for everyone, or only for those most in need? And what learning outcomes should such a system seek to achieve?

Secondly, we identified a range of gaps in the support available for young people in Scotland. We were concerned that young workers and FE students are likely to get less support than other groups, such as HE students. We also noted that career professionals are unevenly distributed across the ecosystem.

Thirdly, we identified some duplication and overlaps in the system. In some places there are multiple organisations and funding streams targeting similar groups. This can lead to confusion and unnecessary complexity.

Fourthly, we saw a system that is unnecessarily fragmented. The range of different funding streams and organisations creates difficulties in sharing data, measuring impact and in cross-service collaboration.

Lessons for the Career Review

Our task was to clarify what was going on, rather than to suggest a way forward. We will be watching with interest as to what the Career Review decides. As, we said at the start, there is a lot to celebrate here and so any changes need to be careful not to throw the baby out with the bathwater.

Nonetheless, there are a range of problems that need to be considered as the country moves forward. These include:

  • While Scotland offers universal access to career services, not all access is equal in terms of quality or ease.
  • Career services are embedded in a wide range of different policies which exacerbates fragmentation as there is little recognition of the career system as a whole.
  • The majority of career services are funded by public money, but there is limited national management of this investment.
  • Multiple stakeholders are involved in the career ecosystem, but there is a need to clearly define who they are and what their roles should be.
  • Some elements of the ecosystem listen carefully to the voices of users, but users are rarely asked to comment on the whole ecosystem.

As the review goes forwards, we hope that these finding offer some food for thought.

For more information on Professor Hooley’s findings as part of the career review download his full report or a summary whitepaper.

About the author

Tristram Hooley is an internationally renowned scholar and teacher on career education and guidance.  He is Director of Research at The Careers & Enterprise Company, Professor of Career Education at the University of Derby and Professor II at the Inland Norway University for Applied Science.

Tristram has extensive experience of working across the interface between policy, research and practice. His key research interests include the intersection between individuals’ careers, career education, the education system, politics and public policy. He has also undertaken social research across a wide range of topics usually with a strong link to public policy.

Tristram maintains an active professional social media profile and writes the Adventures in Career Development blog at