Careers by Design: Scottish Government’s Career Review

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In this post, Shelagh Green, Director of Careers Service at The University of Edinburgh, offers an overview of the Scottish Government’s 2022 review of careers services for young people. Shelagh assesses a handful of the report’s recommendations from an HE perspective, spotlighting the opportunities and challenges that continue to define the professional futures of our students. This post is part of the Learning & Teaching Enhancement Series: Careers and Employability.

When government’s policy eye turns in your direction, it can be a mixed blessing. On balance, in my view, the recommendations from the Scottish Government’s recent work on careers support, ‘Careers by Design’, is definitely more blessing than curse. Pleasingly, it highlights the highly professional careers services within universities as a strength of the current Scottish system, but the recommendations reach well beyond central careers service provision, going to the heart of learning and teaching and the student experience.

It is vital that there is alignment between the skills individuals and the economy demand and those our education and skills system provide. This requires career education and support to be embedded as a core feature of all post school course provision. – ‘Careers by Design’, 2022

The Scottish Government has accepted all ten recommendations from the Review, and indicated an aggressive timetable for their implementation. Focusing on the under-25s, the Review included school, college, university, and voluntary settings. Generating genuine benefit will require sensible and sensitive implementation that recognises the complexity, diversity, and autonomy of the University context, and collaboration within universities to respond to local circumstances. You can read a summary of the Review through an HE lens on the Skills Development Scotland website.

The opportunity presented by the review is ambitious and exciting, with the potential to become world leading. Achieving the vision will pose challenges, but you don’t get to lead the pack without taking risks. Edinburgh has been influencing the world since 1583 – there’s no reason to stop now!

Recommendation two, to develop skills and habits essential for the future world of work, is neither new nor controversial, but it does open up debate: to “recognise and accredit the skills and habits essential for the future world of work” prompts further reflection. What does it mean to accredit skills and habits? What do skills and habits look like at different SCQF levels? Which skills are essential? And who decides?

Recommendation four entails experiential career education through “dedicated curriculum time for experiential work-related learning in all settings”. The use of work-related (rather than work-based) learning provides flexibility, particularly in non-vocational disciplines. There are few who would contest the essential premise, but honouring the commitment requires a more nuanced approach. Providing personalised but scalable experiences needs skilful planning, effective resource management, and reciprocal partnerships.

And the burning question: will we see any demonstrable impact from such interventions? Recommendation nine proposes “a suite of outcome-based measures that are integrated in all settings”. Outcomes are vital, but how do we ensure these are relevant and appropriate to the HE context? Efficiency is a further consideration; I don’t think anyone is looking to increase the bureaucratic load. A potential avenue is through the use of the Graduate Voice questions located within the Graduate Outcomes Survey and existing QAA processes.

I am part of ongoing conversations involving SFC, QAA, and representative bodies including Universities Scotland and AGCAS, as we seek to advance sensible and sensitive approaches within the HE sector. It’s helpful in doing this to know that there are many activities across the University, some of which have been covered in previous Teaching Matters posts, which support the Review’s recommendations.

And the timing couldn’t be better. Through Curriculum Transformation, we have a golden opportunity to deliver more and with greater consistency across the University – which, while aligning with the Review, more importantly supports and demonstrates our commitment to our students’ futures.

Shelagh Green

As well as being Director of the University’s Careers Service, Shelagh Green is President of the Association of Graduate Careers Advisory Services, the professional association for HE Careers and Employability. She is currently a member of the British Academy Steering Group reviewing the skills and attributes developed through Arts, Humanities, and Social Sciences.

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