David Andrews typifies the kind of expertise and partner that makes COA one of the leaders in careers guidance. His experience combines years of school-side practitioner knowledge with consultancy and policy work for government, private organisations and schools across the UK.
A regular on the conference circuit, we couldn’t think of anyone better to establish and run our Getting Started training course for newly-appointed careers guidance professionals.
We caught up with him at the latest course to get his views on the industry and his advice for anyone starting out in a careers role.
Great to see you again, David. I’m going to start on a negative note: what are the biggest challenges you see facing students and practitioners when it comes to careers guidance?
"If you have a policy that devolves careers advice and services to schools, but no money, limited support and limited monitoring, then you will get a patchy service. And what you’ll get as a young person depends entirely on which school you go to, not even the local authority.
At the moment, the quality is down to the commitment of the schools' management and the individual. That’s why it’s absolutely key to get the right person in the job. You need someone who is committed, and interested in young people and their progression. Someone who uses their initiative. Someone who’s prepared to work with colleges from across the schools and the wider community to bring together a programme that meets the needs of young people."
If that’s true, then it sounds like a role in careers guidance could be quite challenging. Why would someone choose to do it?
"I would say, in many respects, that it’s the most highly-networked job in schools. You need to link in with all sorts of people. The subject teachers, the form tutors, the head of sixth form. You also need to network with a selection of individuals outside of the organisation, such as employers, universities, colleges, apprenticeship providers."
What do you think careers guidance practitioners are lacking?
"You need the right individuals, with the right tools. But you also need to be networked into a community of practice where you can pick up ideas from each other. What you have now is a career education policy that’s built on school autonomy, so those networks are disappearing. That’s why something like COA’s free regional network meetings can play a really important part.
We need more opportunities for people to come together and share experience and best practice."
How would you define good careers guidance?
I think it's important to distinguish between information, advice and guidance. Information is giving information about opportunities. Advice is saying 'you should do this'. Guidance is saying 'let’s work alongside you'; let’s find out as much about you as we can, and enable you to find out as much about the opportunities out there as you can, and help you make the right decision for you.
If you don't have it done by professionals, then there is a danger that they'll slip into giving advice. That's why tools like Centigrade are important. They help people reflect on themselves and do the right, structured research about the opportunities available. They're not going to predict 'this is what you’re going to do'. And of course, the information you get out of those tools is only as good as the information you put in."
What is it about Centigrade that you like? What features should career guidance professionals look for in the programmes and services they use?
"I've always said Centigrade is the jewel in COA's crown. It's robust, based on a properly researched model. It's well designed and helps people think through the issues. And with careful consideration, it can generate some initial ideas and encourage you to do the research. And that's the most important thing that people can do - research."
There's often cynicism about the role of career guidance services and programmes. Why do you think they play an essential role in helping young people make informed choices and decisions?
"I think it's important to bear in mind what anyone in the world of careers guidance is trying to achieve. That's where some of the problems are, and why there's criticism of the industry.
There's a view that the job of a careers tutor or adviser is to tell people what to do. It isn't. It’s about equipping someone with the skills to continue to research and reflect on their options throughout their entire career journey. That means from GCSE and A-level decisions at 14 and 16 through to careers choices at 21.
We, and COA, realise that you’re not going to resolve all of your career questions and decisions whilst you're at school. What we can do is help you at school with the decisions you need to make, and equip you to be a lifelong career planner.”