Why do colleges not use more careers information when they recruit students?

With the possible exception of the Secretary of State and his immediate advisers, there can surely be no one in the country who thinks we’ve got careers provision right – nor anyone who expects the problem to be sorted soon.  So why don’t colleges sell their courses better by telling potential students much more about the careers which sit behind the courses they offer? 

Here’s a typical example from a college offering a BTEC L2 Diploma in Creative Media Production.  The web page sensibly asks ‘What job could I get afterwards?, responding:

The media industry is one of the largest employers in the UK, and is continuing to grow. You will be introduced to various aspects of media production technique, meaning that you will be prepared for employment in a variety of areas including location and studio-based TV & Film Production, Journalism & Magazine Production, Advertising & Marketing and Photography.

That’s friendly enough, but surely wholly inadequate, and a terrible missed opportunity.  58 words of rather flat text to attract potential students who want a career in media?  In media, of all things, and it’s all text! 

Where are the videos of former students talking about their exciting careers in the sector?  Where is the link to the website of Creative Skillset (the Sector Skills Council), which has a terrific range of profiles of young professionals in media?  Or as a minimalist backstop, where’s the link to the National Careers Service?

Individuals themselves need to be reassured that they are making a good career choice, and encouraged and excited – and in many cases, so do Mum and Dad.  A good website helps that process. 

Surely it also works at every stage in the business process for colleges: attracting potential students in the first place; ensuring that they pick the right course, which supports better retention and achievement; motivating them through the tough times to the end, and encouraging them to aim for success, not a mere pass, which supports better achievement and a better reputation for the college.  Everyone wins.

It’s certainly true that not every sector is fortunate to have the great bank of profiles and factsheets that Skillset provides, but there is a lot of good material out there, and all of it is free. 

As an example, I stumbled across Careers Box earlier in the week.  It is “the preferred digital new media partner to the Institute of Career Guidance” (and therefore kosher), a free library of short videos on different careers which colleges can embed in their websites.

Most are sponsored, and therefore offer a particular slant.  The video on retail apprenticeships, for example, is sponsored by Superdrug, and Superdrug offers a very different retail experience to, say, an upmarket fashion shop like LK Bennett, or to an Apple Store.  But it’s a start, and it will work for some people.

As I know the maritime sector best, I watched the video illustrating careers for officers in the Merchant Navy.  It is sponsored by SSTG, one of the two leading bodies managing training programmes for junior officers, and in 4 minutes 40 seconds there’s obviously a limit to what they can say.  But they cover both ‘deck’ and engineering careers (the two main options), with useful comment by young people on each path, one male one female, all illustrated with a good range of background shots to give a flavour.  It’s not going to win an Oscar, but I thought it was balanced and a good introduction. 

If I was running maritime courses, I would embed that video, and also provide links to SSTG’s main rival, to the Merchant Navy Training Board and its careers pages, and so on – and I’d get some former students back, college alumni, to talk about their own experience.  By chance I’ve heard a former SSTG student, now a junior officer, talking about how much he loved his trip to the Far East with Maersk, and why he much preferred the hectic life on a workboat in the port of Liverpool.  Personal stories are very powerful (and still far too little used).

All of that takes some organising, I do appreciate.  But the business imperatives for taking action are powerful.  To say nothing of doing the right thing for our students. 

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About Iain Mackinnon

I am Managing Director of The Mackinnon Partnership, a niche consultancy working primarily with public sector clents in the UK, and focusing on skills and enterprise, usually in the wider context of wider economic development.
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