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16:44 Tuesday 13 August 2013 

'Students should be given personalised careers advice'

Vicki SellensVicki Sellens is a trained careers adviser. She is Transition and Progression Manager at BCA (formerly Berkshire College of Agriculture) in Burchetts Green, Maidenhead. On Thursday, she'll be handing out adviceon Twitter using the hashtag #AskVicki to Alevel students who have just collected their results.

Whether they’re waiting for GCSE or A-level results – or they’ve just graduated or completed a vocational qualification – young people need to be able to access expert, personalised advice on what to do next. If they make the wrong decision now, it is no exaggeration to say that the consequences could be with them for the rest of their lives.

And at this time of year as the dreaded results days approach - Thursday for Alevels and Thursday week for GCSEs - high-quality, impartial guidance is a ‘must-have’.

At this stage, students may simply need help with navigating the Clearing system or information on how to access finance to help with the cost of university or college, but young people should receive careers service throughout their teens.

And by that, I don’t mean I quick one-off chat a couple of times a year, I mean a sustained dialogue with a trained expert who can offer support as well as information. Careers advice isn’t a ‘quick fix’ once the wrong decision has been made.

But many teenagers are being deprived of the type of high-quality guidance – and I’m not the only person to be concerned about it.

Earlier this year, a cross-party committee of MPs produced a damning report on the quality of careers advice now available.

The report said: "The quality and quantity of guidance for young people is deteriorating just when it is most needed’.

It highlighted in particular problems with ‘the quality, independence and impartiality’ of what was available and called for ‘urgent steps’ to improve the situation.

Many of the problems stem from cuts to the Government-funded service Connexions and the decision to hand responsibility for careers advice to schools – but without any extra money to run the service. Schools have to provide it from their existing budgets. And that’s a very tall order.

The National Careers Service, launched last year, offers guidance by website and phone, but it does not provide young people with face-to-face advisers. My experience tells me that building a relationship with students, and really understanding where their ambitions and abilities lie, is absolutely crucial.

And whether we work in schools, colleges or universities, careers experts must put the needs of young people above those of their employer. The MPs found evidence that some schools were too keen to encourage their students to progress to their sixth-form even if vocational training was the right option for some.

And it isn’t only education choices that are hit by low-quality advice and information – it also affects young people’s chances of finding work in an increasingly competitive job market.

Many business leaders point to a massive information gap between the real demands of employers and what young people know and where their aspirations lie.

It all comes back to ensuring that students have access to the right advice at the right time. We need to get it right for their sakes.

Have you got a careers question you’d like to ask Vicki? For free, friendly, independent advice, use the BCA Twitter feed @BCA_Maidenhead and sign off with the hashtag #AskVicki. And don’t forget to include @MaidenheadAds

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