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Chairperson: Mr Phil Flanagan MLA
The Chairperson: You are all very welcome. Thanks very much for coming. It is good to see that Room 115 is nearly full to capacity. Thank God we did not put the event in the Long Gallery; it would have looked a lot worse. Thanks to the staff for organising this excellent event and for the lovely food. I was reminded, as I had my mouth full of chicken and sandwiches, that I am going for dinner with large businesses later on. So, I kept eating: that is what I do. You are all very welcome to this Assembly and Business Trust briefing.
We will hear from Robin Swann MLA, who is the Chairperson of the Committee for Employment and Learning. Robin will deliver a briefing on the Employment and Learning Committee’s inquiry into careers education, information, advice and guidance, the report of which was debated in the Chamber yesterday. So, this briefing is very timely and shows how the trust aims to remain relevant. It was no fluke.
The purpose of the inquiry, which I participated in as a member of the Committee, was to identify areas where the careers education, information, advice and guidance or CEIAG — it is not a three-letter acronym; it is a five-letter one, which is worse — strategy is failing to meet the needs of target groups, including school-age pupils, young people and the unemployed.
During the Committee’s evidence gathering, it heard from employers and sector skills councils on the need for careers advice that is reflective of the employment opportunities that are available and that there is a need for better labour market intelligence to reach schools to prepare students for a changing economy.
I am delighted that the Chair of the Committee, Robin Swann, and other members of the Committee, including Thomas Buchanan, who is the Deputy Chair, Bronwyn McGahan, Sammy Douglas and the former Chair, Basil McCrea, are able to join us for part of the event. Seán Lynch MLA is also here. That is a fairly good turnout from MLAs, given that proceedings in the Chamber have been brought to a close. That further demonstrates the success of moving these meetings from 8.00 am to 4.00 pm, which is something I will deal with in a minute. So, I am delighted that so many MLAs and members of the business community have joined us for today’s briefing.
Following the briefing, there will be an opportunity for you to put questions directly to Robin, who hopefully has been briefed well by Cathie on the inquiry. Hopefully, he has read all the thousands of pages of the report. When you are asking questions after the briefing, will you state your name and organisation? At the end of the event, I would appreciate it if you could fill in the feedback questionnaires that are on your chairs and leave them at the back of the room before you leave. If you want to tweet about this event, you can mention @niabt. There is Susie at the back of the room with sandwiches in her hand; she will obviously not be tweeting for the next 10 minutes. I pass over to Robin to deliver the briefing on the Committee’s inquiry.
Mr Robin Swann MLA (Chairperson, Committee for Employment and Learning, Northern Ireland Assembly): Thank you very much. As Phil explained, he is a member of the Employment and Learning Committee, and he played a part in the inquiry. He is a valued member of the Committee as are the other members here.
Ladies and gentlemen, first I thank the Northern Ireland Assembly and Business Trust for the opportunity to brief you on our inquiry. As the Chair has indicated, it was only debated yesterday in the Assembly. When an inquiry is put forward to a Minister or Ministers, they have eight weeks to respond to the Committee. That is the process we are in now, although that takes in the Christmas and new year recess. We have been kind and given them an extra couple of weeks. We will get formal feedback on the 25 recommendations included the inquiry, which is available on the Committee’s page on the Assembly’s website. As Phil referenced, we had large input from across the spectrum, which I will touch on later.
The Committee agreed to carry out the inquiry because it was evident that there were areas where improvements could be made. During the briefings to the Committee, a number of organisations had highlighted issues about how advice on career options is offered. The Committee had concerns about the place of careers provision in the wider economic development of Northern Ireland and asked how it could be that, simultaneously, there exists both a large number of young people leaving education with little prospect of employment, alongside claims from industry that Northern Ireland is facing a skills shortage that is jeopardising our future economic growth.
The Committee agreed to the terms of reference for the inquiry just before the summer recess in July 2012 and, over those summer months, the Committee wrote to 65 key stakeholders requesting written evidence to the Committee and received answers from some 41 different organisations. Then, over the 2012-13 session, the Committee heard oral evidence from 28 organisations and made study visits to the University of Ulster and the South East Regional College in Bangor.
In addition to the written and oral evidence, the Committee felt it important to give young people — those most directly affected by careers advice — the opportunity to have their say. The Committee issued an online survey to pupils in year 12 in schools and students in colleges and at university and young people who had left school and were not in education or employment. We were overwhelmed by that response. It is the first time that a Committee had used SurveyMonkey, not to put an industrial plug into the report. It is the first time that any Committee had used that method. Across all four groups, we received 8,428 responses. The Committee is incredibly grateful to those who took the time to respond. So, when we talk about the input from young people and students, we have that evidence base behind us from that survey.
Given that responsibility for careers lies jointly with the Department for Employment and Learning and the Department of Education, we had to make all the papers relevant to the inquiry available to the Committee for Education. We began the inquiry with a joint briefing from both Departments and that was crucial throughout the entire time of the inquiry. All our evidence sessions and all the information that we received was put online and made available to the Education Committee. When our report was finalised and 25 recommendations were made, because a number of those recommendations were the joint responsibility of of both the Minister for Employment and Learning and the Minister of Education, we had to get agreement from both Committees, which was a relatively painless task. We are pleased to say that, though we were expecting a wee bit of kickback, it did not come.
One point to make is that the Committee was struck by the wide range of organisations involved in careers education advice and guidance: schools, businesses, the Careers Service and the different sector skills bodies. Many of those organisations are still funded by central government. Although it was not an aspect of the inquiry that was dealt with during its evidence, the Committee noted that, with such a wide range of organisations providing what sometimes can be conflicting information, the Department for Employment and Learning and the Department of Education should consider whether there is duplication of effort or whether their efforts could be better coordinated.
I must emphasise that there is much to praise in careers education, information, advice and guidance in Northern Ireland. Individual teachers and advisers work tirelessly to advance the horizons, aspirations and prospects of those looking for a productive and enriching life. Schools, colleges and universities have widened the options and visions for those who come through their doors, just beyond the passing of the next exam, to mould those individuals to be work-ready, so that they have a focus and confidence as to where they want to be in five or 10 years’ time.
The Committee considered that there was much to be done when it took in all the evidence, and it was able to distil it down to just 25 recommendations. We received internal and external advice that 25 was a lot of recommendations, but, if I tell you that we brought that number down from 48, to have 25 recommendations becomes more credible. Two Ministers are involved as well, so they can divide them between them. So we have made the call now, and that is what yesterday’s debate was about: putting our formal inquiry and those recommendations on the tables of both Ministers.
During our whole evidence session, the Committee found basic evidence that pointed to both systemic and specific examples of poor careers provision. We found evidence of inconsistency in careers provision across Northern Ireland. There was evidence of a lack of information, and what information was available was difficult to digest. There is a suggestion that schools and colleges — I know that there are representatives of both in the audience — to protect their own enrolments do not advise students of the full range of options available to them. Also, there is a lack of joined-up thinking across the education and employment sectors to have a workforce ready for the economy of tomorrow.
The Committee’s recommendations fall under the main themes that came out of the inquiry. The first and most overarching is the need to provide for a statutory duty. From reviewing the evidence and looking at the experience of other jurisdictions and having seen that further interventions are needed, the Committee recommends that DEL and DE examine the possible benefits of introducing a statutory mechanism for ensuring a consistency of approach and high standards of careers service across all schools, colleges and universities in Northern Ireland. The Committee felt that, should both Departments decide to explore that avenue, it must be adequately resourced to ensure that it is successful. The difficulty in successfully introducing a statutory duty without such resources is evidenced by the experience of England, where a statutory duty of careers guidance was introduced in 2012, but in a recent OFSTED evaluation it was found that implementation was far from complete and many of the issues that had led to the statutory duty were still evident.
The Committee noted that one area in which a statutory duty exists is the schools’ entitlement framework, which has been a statutory duty from 1 September. As members are aware, this duty, which puts the needs of pupils first and aims to provide access for schools to a broad and balanced curriculum, is intended to enable pupils to reach their full potential, no matter which school they attend or where they live. This is a duty that, the Committee feels, is at risk as an unintended consequence of the current careers provision, as not all subjects and avenues are always being addressed by those offering advice. Some evidence suggests that some schools do not always signpost the range of opportunities especially available in further education and college but instead promote their own subject offering in an effort to retain their pupil numbers.
With respect to the curriculum, the Committee believes that Department of Education should make careers provision a compulsory subject and employ a range of good practice to improve the career chances of students. Schools should widen and raise aspirations. Personal portfolios should be used to help students assess their range of skills and receive direction on the skills, both social and academic, that they need to work on to become more attractive to employers. Schools should also promote integrated working through group projects to help students work with others to solve problems.
We in the Committee were aware of the additional barriers to fulfilling careers that are faced by some groups in society, and the Committee has recommended that special measures should be put in place to help those individuals. For those who are economically inactive, we recommend that DEL includes in its ongoing review of economic inactivity the role that the Careers Service should play in signposting the economically inactive into training, education and ultimately employment. For those for whom the costs associated with education are a barrier, we felt that DEL should provide practical financial advice to ensure that the door to further and higher education is not closed because of cost. For those with learning difficulties, the Committee recommended that DEL should develop an integrated network to support or help them engage in work, whether through grant schemes for employers or mentoring schemes and should investigate best practice in other jurisdictions. We also address the issue of female students. DEL and DE should develop a strategy to identify and address the barriers facing their progress into STEM-based careers.
We need to know that there is a drive to promote STEM-based careers. STEM is an area on which we all agree: for the future of our economy, more needs to be done to guide our young people to those subjects, to make them proficient enough to profit from the efforts of the Assembly to steer Northern Ireland to a more technology-based economy. The Committee knows that the promotion of STEM is central both to DEL and DE. However, evidence that they are working has yet to bear fruit, and we could not find evidence in the inquiry. It has yet to work. For that reason, the Committee recommends that DEL looks to how it measures success in that endeavour and that the Department of Education considers expanding the approach it currently takes with STEM to provide more career insights and exposure to the world of business and entrepreneurship. The Committee also recommends that our schools, colleges and universities are adequately resourced with the right equipment and skills to teach those cutting-edge technologies.
The Committee has also seen evidence of that historic bias in our society towards the old professions. As a society, we value the careers choices of law, medicine and teaching, among others. To counteract that, the Committee recommended that DEL and DE develop an action plan providing information for parents, to engage with parents to ensure that the advice and encouragement that they offer their children is informed and that that is assisted by an inclusive and fit-for-purpose careers website, such as the My World of Work site in Scotland.
As part of that improvement and the provision of information, the Committee recommended that DEL increase its efforts to make labour market information more accessible and develop a more joined-up approach to informed sharing between itself and other key stakeholders to enable it to collate, analyse and disseminate quality information.
I am speaking to the Northern Ireland Assembly and Business Trust, and one of the things we found throughout the inquiry was our engagement with business and employers. This has not been specifically written because of today’s meeting, but one of the most gratifying aspects of the inquiry was the input from the business sector, whether from businesses themselves or the sector skills councils. The Committee was left with no doubt that there was not only a willingness but an eagerness to help.
The business sector knows that, if the education and careers advice can be got right, they will profit and Northern Ireland will profit. However, the Committee felt that it was, to a large extent, an untapped resource. To that end, it recommended that DEL and DE develop better engagement between schools and businesses and seek to introduce in schools a more consistent approach to promoting, organising and quality-assuring work placements for students and include in their planned careers strategy how engagement in career-related learning between schools and business can be approved.
The Committee recommended that DE, with the assistance of DEL, review the resources provided to schools for delivering work experience, explore the feasibility of all post-primary schools delivering work experience for their students and evaluates the quality of those placements.
The other theme running through the evidence is the need for those offering careers advice to be adequately qualified and trained. The Committee noted with great concern that there was no longer a qualification in Northern Ireland for teaching careers, and there has not been for 10 years. Therefore, the Committee recommended that DEL work in haste to develop and introduce more qualifications in career education, information, advice and guidance to Northern Ireland and that the Department of Education put more emphasis on the delivery of careers education, information, advice and guidance to increase the number of experienced and qualified careers staff.
The report was presented to the Minister for Employment and Learning yesterday. He has already announced a review of careers education, advice and guidance. In an ideal world, we would hope that all of the report’s 25 recommendations would be taken forward. In a realistic world, though, we hope that as many as possible are adopted. There was a lot of input from the many people and organisations that we engaged with, including stakeholders, large businesses and young people. The Minister for Employment and Learning places a lot of emphasis on evidence-based resource and research, and the inquiry that the Committee carried out over the past year or so is well and truly evidence-based. That concludes my introduction.
The Chairperson: Does anyone have any questions?
Ms Deirdre Deery (Queen’s University Belfast): I am careers adviser at Queen’s. I welcome the report and am delighted that it puts a focus on careers education, information, advice and guidance. I have a strange background in that I worked in the Manpower Services Commission as a careers adviser in schools. I then worked at the University of Ulster for 11 years and have worked at Queen’s for 12 years.
What you are trying to do is good but complex. Robin, you said that there has not been a training course for 10 years for careers teachers in schools. However, a lot of teachers are given careers work but not the time to carry it out. They are not given the focus that they need and, in many cases, are not rewarded for the work that they do. They are also dealing with young people at a difficult time, when they do not see the value of careers because it is at that crucial period. So, we need to bring it back to being a third form choice rather than a fifth form choice, when it is nearly too late.
At Queen’s, we have been trying to get careers teachers in to talk to careers advisers, and we did that in some areas. We in the higher education environment can give a lot of useful leads from what we have been doing with the students when they come into us. You also talked about choice. I do not know whether young people actually make a choice to go into higher education. I think that it is their rite of passage; they think that that is what they are going to do. You talked about the whole idea of law, medicine, dentistry and all the other professions being lost.
What you are trying to do is wonderful. I welcome the report. Any focus on it would be great, but a lot of stakeholders have to be involved in it to make it work.
Mr Swann: You make very valid points. That it why we had a broad spectrum of stakeholder engagement in the inquiry. We know that 45 recommendations down to 28 is still a wide number of recommendations, but we cannot distil it any further.
One of the things that concerned us about careers teachers, which also came back from the pupil engagement through the SurveyMonkey online survey, is that careers teachers in most schools now seem to be a history teacher, PE teacher or RE teacher who does not have a full timetable. It is not even the fact that they do not have the time; it is the fact that that is the only teacher in the school who has the time.
A couple of Members yesterday referred to their careers advice. Some of them went back to history, right enough. I remember mine. I went to Ballymena Academy. Once a week, we had a period for careers. We went into a room that had photocopied sheets that you pulled out of a file. In a lot of schools, that has not changed. That would actually be a step up for a lot of schools. That is why we are moving towards making it a statutory duty. One of the biggest challenges will be to make sure that DEL and DE fund the need to make it a statutory duty. We keep hearing the right words, such as “We want to invest in our young people” and “It’s all about pupils”; there is nothing more important than giving them the right careers advice and guidance at that stage.
In one of the evidence sessions that we received, it was stated that careers advice and guidance should start in years 8, 9 and 10. That is one of the report’s recommendations. That is exactly what you are saying. We are not going to tell everybody at 10 years old that they will be an astronaut and things like that, but you have to give them the information so that they can make informed choices.
You also said that it is about giving not just the young people the ability to make informed choices but the parents. That is why we specifically referenced the traditional professions that everybody aspires to. It probably offended people. I have a wee girl of three, and her granny wants her to be a doctor. We do not know whether it will still be about doctors by the time she qualifies and reaches that stage. It is about educating parents. We saw the Scottish Parliament’s advice that was being given to and targeted especially at parents to educate them. You talked about young people going into further or higher education as a rite of passage. An awful lot of it is not peer pressure but parental pressure. We need to work round that as well.
Thanks for the comments about the report, Deirdre. We welcome those and the support.
Ms Maria Lee (Queen’s University Belfast): I am head of careers, employability and skills at Queen’s. Like Deirdre, I welcome the report. I look forward to digesting the recommendations in more detail than the time has allowed me.
This is really more of a comment, and it reinforces some of the points that have been made. I welcome the focus on parents. Looking at it from a higher education institution perspective, we see the impact of the traditional choices on highly qualified young people heading for medicine when maybe their future is in other contexts. It has to start really early. You are also focusing on primary schools and linking it, particularly around the STEM agenda, to what happens in their broader experience with subjects. Choices are not just around the traditions of what you know around stereotypical-type jobs; they are also about your engagement with the broader subject.
We see increasing numbers of young people choosing to come to STEM-related subjects. Although those choices are made at post-primary school, the experience is developed in the primary school. There is a need for coherence, integration and building, which emphasises the complexity that Deirdre highlighted.
I want to pick up one thing in particular, which I think is a valid recommendation to be striving towards. It is to give young people as much experience of the world of work as possible. From our perspective, a linked strategy is the higher education strategy and the desire to see more young people in higher education getting more experience. That is something that we strive for at Queen’s, but trying to get experience of the traditional view is not always easy, no matter how engaging the business community is. If we are all seeking work experience opportunities, that creates a difficulty if you want it to be meaningful. So, we are exploring lots of ways in which one can engage students or young people with the world of work, and it is not always about a placement or a work experience. There are some interesting models that we see in operation that are almost like the field trip. We call them study tours. They involve taking young people into businesses and getting experiences without it being a placement. We will need to be quite creative if we want to try to share those opportunities with a very broad range of young people. We need to think broadly about what we mean by work experience.
Mr Swann: Following on from the work experience avenue, one the things that came back from surveying young people was the lack of work experience opportunities out there. Some schools just do not offer it because it is too much hassle for them. Other schools offer it if you can go and source it yourself. So, more often than not, that ends up not as work experience but as a week at work with mum or dad, because they could not get anyone else to take them. They sit in the car or in the corner of the office, and it is non-productive. If young people get that as an experience of going to work, it can be counterproductive. Yesterday, one of the Committee members, David Hilditch, said that a young fellow on work experience ended up walking around a school with a black bag picking up litter for three days.
Ms Lee: We talk about work-related opportunities, and we should think creatively about how we can give that kind of experience without it being that kind of two-week —
Mr Swann: Yes. I think that there is a need to step outside.
Mr Ted Jensen (eye4education): I welcome the report, and I look forward to digging in deeper. We go out to an awful lot of schools, and all of our work is around employability, especially on the STEM area. We do workshops and carousels and bring businesses in to work with schools, mostly at post-primary level but also in P7.
My question has to do with your STEM recommendations, because the STEM agenda has been out and is being actively worked on. Are your new recommendations about STEM in addition to what is already there, or are they just reinforcing what is already there to say we still need to keep working on those — for example, the gender issues with STEM and some of the other ones?
Mr Swann: Our recommendations specifically on STEM are not anything new. We are asking DEL and DE to give us some proper evaluation of what they have done. Are there agendas? We have a raft of them focusing on STEM, but we are not seeing the results coming through. The Minister made a statement that he would like to see something on gender, but he is yet to set targets. So, it is really a push. It is more about using the inquiry to put that pressure on both Ministers. I am not picking on one individual.
As a Committee, we are focusing on this and watching this. It is one of our recommendations, and we want to see action. The role of the Committee in the House is of being able to facilitate a scrutiny role and an observance role. Interestingly, yesterday, we got a lot of support, including from the Committee for Culture, Arts and Leisure and the Committee for Education on the report that we did. The Committee for Culture, Arts and Leisure wanted to change STEM to STEAM by adding in the arts. I think that that is the Scottish model. I will leave that up to the Minister, because we are only talking about STEM.
Ms Kim Johnston (Kim Johnston Executive Search): I want to make one comment. The Institute of Directors does a shadow director programme, which I have judged for the past five years. This year, we had eight applicants. They were kids from schools who are offered the opportunity to shadow a director in Northern Ireland for a full week. That is proper work experience. So, there seems to be a problem at school level that the schools are not sending enough pupils through.
Mr Swann: Again, that is a valid comment, and it is something that we can take on. It goes back to this question: how much does the school promote careers? You will send a letter in to the careers teacher, who might also be taking the under-15s to Enniskillen that week. So that letter that you sent in just gets lost in the plethora somewhere, whereas, if we have a statutory requirement for careers teachers and advice embedded in the schools and careers in the curriculum as well, those opportunities should be ones that everybody jumps at. You should not be left with just the small numbers that apply for it. If there is anything the Committee could do to promote that stuff, we could have a look at it as well and support you in that.
Dr Joanne Stuart (Attrus Limited): Thanks very much for your talk, Robin. It was very interesting. I have not had a chance to read the detail of the report as yet. I have a question but also a comment. I am here with Attrus Ltd, but I also chair the STEM business group, which is looking at the business-led recommendations from the STEM review. We will send you an update on some of the progress that has been made, because we see some progress with regard to pupils studying the STEM subjects, for example.
We have a real challenge when you get into tertiary education and the career decisions that are being made, particularly for women, as you say, but within the last two weeks we have just published our report on addressing the gender balance in STEM, which includes best practice guidelines for employers on how we can make the environment much more welcoming for young women going into STEM. We will also launch a STEM charter at the end of January, which employers will sign up to, to really get that message out that STEM is for girls too.
The thing that I am interested in is that you mentioned parents and how important it is to engage. We are looking at how businesses engage and get that message across to parents. We did a STEM careers supplement in the ‘Belfast Telegraph’ in September as a way of trying to get that message out, but I just wonder if there are any ideas coming through with your inquiry and any best practice with regards to getting the message to parents.
Mr Swann: As of yet, in regard to parents, no. We did not take in any best practice. We took the evidence that you need to convince and advise parents. I suppose the only example of best practice we could see was My World of Work, which Scotland uses. It is better than what we have, but it is not the answer. It is not great. Again, you need parents to be IT- and ICT-literate to go on to a website to search for their children’s opportunities and futures.
In regard to the STEM subjects, there is a realisation now that we have to firmly embed those in our careers guidance, not just in our education streams. The Committee was over at the European Employment Forum and heard that, in 10 years’ time, 90% of the jobs will require basic ICT. At this moment in time, we are struggling with numeracy and literacy. We have to add that into the careers guidance and the range of abilities that we give our pupils. There is also the challenge that we do not even know what the jobs will be in 10 years’ time, but we have to try to scope that those abilities and the educational basis that comes from STEM subjects will provide best advantage to young people in employment at the moment.
Mr Stephen Kelly (Manufacturing Northern Ireland): Robin, thanks very much for your report, and we welcome it.
I have a couple of comments. There are jobs out there that our members struggle to fill. When I was in Brussels with some of your colleagues I mentioned that about 40% of the materials-handling equipment in the world comes out of County Tyrone at the moment, whereas only three of the A-level students that finished their A levels in County Tyrone actually chose an engineering career. There are a load of jobs there that we need filled, but there is a lack of supply in terms of some of the young people who choose that route. This has got to be seen as a massive opportunity. There are people who need to import skills from other parts of Europe in order to get the work done.
My 11-year-old son can buy and sell me in many ways, particularly when it comes to looking around computers and stuff. He can find ways to get himself better informed, and I just wonder whether, when you talked about that Scottish portal, there is some consideration in there of making some of those skills, jobs and careers opportunities available to young people and children so that they can discover them. The second point really is about the recommendation with regard to resourcing schools and, particularly, colleges, not only with people but with equipment. There is a gap between what colleges are able to teach and the skills, insight and knowledge that are actually needed by engineering, industry and manufacturing.
Mr Swann: You have made a number of points, Stephen. With regard to engineering and welding jobs, there were 600 job opportunities in Harland and Wolff and it had to import 400 people to fill them. There should be that basic skills set, not only among young people, but in the older workforce. Caterpillar paid off hundreds of staff. There should have been a retraining scheme. It should have been realised that industry around the harbour would be advanced and enhanced. It was going to go that way eventually, but we did not set the skills in place to fill that market when it came.
The web base for young people is one of the things that the Minister had announced. I suppose, as a Committee Chair, that it is always one of those things that you look at. You go through the process of an inquiry for a number of years. Ministers always like to be able to stand up and say that they have already done it. He did produce data sheets on different careers provision, which are available through the DEL portal or website. He has done that stage as well.
Our target was actually to educate parents because we are fully aware from our engagement with young people that they know how to find out where the best careers are. My party colleague Danny Kinahan, who is the Deputy Chairperson of the Committee for Education, pointed out that, although we are looking at employment opportunities in Northern Ireland, we should actually be putting out the employment opportunities that there are in the UK and worldwide. We are not talking about a brain drain, but we should equip our young people to be able to send them across the world to where future employment will be.
Mr Danny Kinahan MLA: I am the Deputy Chairperson of the Committee for Education. We will very much be pushing that as a Committee. I want to make two points. I have, now, been on the Committee for a year and a half. There is no easy way to get parents involved in schools. There is no information system or grouping of parents. We must push for that. The other point is, very much, about the portal or website that I mentioned. We need help from businesses. You could put podcasts and information together that actually shows people how sexy, if I can use that word, and interesting your business is, so that they want to do that. When I went to the Science Park with the Committee, I came home to my daughter, who is doing art, and I said, “Look, you need to learn how to get your art through ICT into design and the technological world”. She looked at me and said, “No, Dad”. We have got to sell it. That is where we have got to the message across. What is happening today is fantastic, but we have all got to keep working at it. We will keep at it on the Committee for Education.
Mr Swann: You would almost think that that was coordinated.
Stephen, I want to go back to one of your points earlier about equipment in schools and colleges, which is basic and fundamental. A governor of a school — I will not say where — told me that, because of corporate buying policies and all the rest of it, the computer systems there are five years out of date. Pupils suggest that they bring in their own iPads and all the rest of it, so that they can be taught. They are told that they cannot be allowed to do that because of safety protocols and accessing C2k online. We need to equip schools and colleges with the most up-to-date equipment. We, probably, need to look at buy in from business and partnership with schools in order to try to get new equipment and resources.
The Chairperson: Are there any other questions or comments from the floor?
Mr Steve Thomson (Schrader Electronics): I am involved with the STEM business subgroup, and I am a governor of a post-primary school.
One thing that I have noticed and on which I would like to comment is that, when you come to try to join things up, you find that there are so many different groups of people doing things in isolation. One thing that we have found in the STEM subgroup is that nobody wants to join together. They all want to have their own little piece of the pie and keep it separate. That is a problem that we really have to address, if we want to make headway.
We are talking about have one website or place where people can go to get information. We have tried to do that. We have found it virtually impossible because people want to have their own website and not have a link to it from any other website. That is a big problem.
With regard to teachers and careers advice, one thing that I, as a governor, have noticed is that it is very difficult for careers teachers to give advice across the range of careers. Unless those teachers have been involved in industry or know about technology, it is difficult for them to have the insight to give good careers advice to people. So, industry and companies need to be more involved in that, and there needs to be more of a partnership between companies and schools and careers teachers to enable that to happen.
My final comment is about perception. When you look at countries such as Germany, which has a very successful technology-based economy, you see that careers such as engineering are held in the highest esteem. They are held in the same esteem as a doctor or a consultant would be here. Society and the people in here have to do something about raising that perception. How do we do that? There needs to be an onslaught in the media; it needs to be out there. Unless we raise the perception of engineering and STEM-related subjects and careers, you will always be fighting against the parental pressure and people saying, “I want my son to be a doctor, not an engineer”.
Mr Swann: At the end, you said that it is about perception, not necessarily young people’s perception but that of their parents and grandparents.
You referred to Germany. We have just come back from the European Employment Forum. Germany’s youth unemployment is at 7•7%, compared with 21•3% here. The European average is, I think, 23•4%. One of the biggest reasons why Germany is able to keep its youth unemployment figure low is its apprenticeship structures. The Committee is looking at that, and I know that the Minister is also looking at it through his review of apprenticeships. It is how they equate apprenticeships in engineering to those traditional professions. You are right: the Germans already have that structure in-built. Northern Ireland teachers need to be able to adapt and change their mindset on that. That is where we need to be heading.
Mr Thomson: May I make another comment on apprenticeships? Sorry to take up your time. In Northern Ireland, when you hear the word “apprenticeship”, you think about something very low down. A lot of apprenticeships today require highly skilled and highly qualified people. In another meeting, I suggested to the Employment and Learning Minister that we should change the name of apprenticeships to something else to get rid of this historical baggage of apprenticeships being seen as a craft thing or a trade thing; they are very highly skilled positions. I think that that would be a very easy thing to do.
Mr Swann: Whether you change the name or the salary that is associated with it, I think that that is —
Mr Thomson: But it is a perception. When you talk about an apprenticeship, most parents out there will think, “Once upon a time, I was a motor mechanic. I served an apprenticeship”.
Mr Swann: That is the change. I know that the Minister, in his review of apprenticeships, is looking to take apprenticeships to levels 8, 9 and 10. So, again, it is a big sell and a big challenge, but we can do that.
Going back to the issue of careers teachers, that is why we came forward with the recommendation to make statutory provision for that, so that we can ingrain it in the curriculum and teachers. One of the other things that we mentioned in the report is the need to make that careers provision part of teachers’ continual personal development, as well as engagement with business, so that they are always up to speed with the careers that are coming down the line and what is needed educationally to meet those demands.
You talked about joined-up working — try getting that in here, never mind outside.
Ms Moira McCarthy (University of Ulster): Thank you, Chair, for the presentation of the report. It is very welcome and interesting.
I want to make two points. The first is about resource, and the second is about primary and post-primary. I will relate this to careers. When people think about careers information and guidance, they think that it is quite simplistic and a nice cosy topic. We are preparing people for jobs that do not exist. We are trying to prepare them for a global economy. It is not even about labour market information; it is about labour market intelligence. It is about providing a set of skills for entrepreneurship, employability and how to manage and progress your career, because, very soon, there will not be any more jobs for life. So, it is a lot more complex and curriculum-based than what has gone before.
Anything that will reinforce and ring-fence the funding for it and provide that resource so that it embeds in the curriculum of primary, post-primary and higher education should be welcomed. It is not just about work experience, it is about those really important skills and providing young people as adults with the opportunity to change career, to progress, to move country, to go to Europe, to come back, to go to Australia and bring all those skills back. It is much more embedded in the curriculum than it was.
Mr Swann: I know, referring to what Danny Kinahan said, that it is about looking at careers as a worldwide opportunity. It is also changing that mindset that careers information, advice and guidance is not about taking somebody into a room and telling them what their job will be; it is taking somebody into a room and telling them what their opportunities are, rather than telling them where they will finish up, which was my experience of careers, as I said. You pulled out a wee sheet, there was an A4 page, and you looked at the back at the average salary, what degree you needed and that is what you were going to be, and that was it. It is expanding that out into the opportunities that will be there.
Mr Rory Galway (Bombardier Aerospace): I have a couple of points. There seem to be a lot of positive things in the report, and I thank you for that.
I hope that I do not sound too negative, but I have spoken in other forums in defence of careers teachers. Part of the trick seems to be that a lot of schools are judged on one thing: results. It is usually not employability. At prize nights that I have been at, schools seem to be happy to talk about the kids who have gone on to further education or to university, but the ones who go straight into employment often do not get much of a mention. So, I think that there is a bigger issue there in schools. Whatever support is given to careers teachers, the schools in general need to take on a different mindset in terms of employment and employability.
The other thing is a plea from an employer. There can often be a lot of initiatives that come out of this type of thing and really, please, get employers and employers’ organisations involved from an early stage. I talk from personal experience. We have found ourselves in a situation where initiatives are launched and we do not hear about them until somebody is wanting work done and no one has asked employers whether it fits in with their plans or what they want to do.
On the positive side, we have been talking in different forums with the CBI, and one of the big things, which was mentioned by a speaker just a moment ago, is labour market intelligence. It is really not just about what jobs are there now; it is about the shape of things to come. It is down to employers to help provide that information for the rest of society.
Mr Swann: That is sound, Rory. What we were saying about careers advice was that we had seen a lot of examples of very poor and weak careers advice, but there were some examples of very good careers advice. However, that relied on one very good careers teacher, and it was often their commitment to the school or their commitment to the pupils that was guiding them in going out and researching and looking for the future jobs.
When it comes back to results and tables, our education system has been pushed that way and it is unfortunate. I am a governor at two post-primary schools in my area, one is a grammar and one is comprehensive, and results nights are very different. At one end, you bring back the person with a job as the guest speaker and at the other, they have the person who has got a master’s degree in whatever to come back and do the speaking. It is getting that match there as well to make sure that we recognise the potential that is there and make the most of it. It is going back to the fact that careers advice is not about a job; it is about the opportunities as well, and to make sure that we are skilling our people to be there.
Dr Stuart: Thanks very much, Robin. As vice-chair of the trust, I thank you all for coming to the briefing today. As evidenced by the questions and the discussion, this is a critical area for business. I thank Robin for taking the time to go through the report. It is also great to see the joined-up work between your Committee and the Committee for Education. Those of you who have not read the report can access and download it at the Committee for Employment and Learning’s page on the Assembly website.
As Phil said at the beginning, please take a couple of minutes to fill out your feedback forms. We take on board any comments for improving these briefings, so please let us know your thoughts. Before I finish, I would just like to make you aware of the next event, which is our Christmas reception on Monday 2 December at 5.00 pm. We will hear from Ivan Lewis MP, the shadow Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, who will give his thoughts on the Northern Ireland economy. It would be great to see a lot of you there on Monday.
Thanks, again, to Robin; perhaps you would all like to show your appreciation. Thank you. [Applause.]