05/05/2015 07:28 BST | Updated 01/05/2016 06:12 BST

Rethinking Careers Support for Young People

The 2015 general election has been dominated by conjecture about post-election coalition scenarios. This has crowded out any kind of analysis of many of the policies being proposed. At an election briefing last week, consensus seemed to be that little attention was being paid to the manifestos as no-one believed that the policies would actually be carried out.

Whether this cynicism is true or not, young people, schools, colleges, universities and employers will be directly affected by the thinking of the parties - and this thinking merits more scrutiny than it has currently received.

At first glance, the importance placed by all of the main parties on supporting apprenticeships, vocational training, careers advice and widening participation build on the commitments in the 2010 manifestos and are to be welcomed. We must though learn the lessons of the last five years, where the actual record is more mixed.

On the plus side, more apprenticeships have been 'delivered' during this parliament, but the biggest increase has been in the number of apprenticeships for the over 25s, and the percentage of young people successfully completing apprenticeships has actually fallen.

It is commonly accepted that the current careers advice structure is unfit for purpose. Moving careers advice to schools without additional funding has left this service in disarray for too many young people. The impact has been to make it much harder for disadvantaged young people to make sense of the range of education and employment options on offer, as evidenced by a range of reports from the likes of Ofsted and the Social Mobility and Child Poverty Commission.

The importance of getting this right is crucial for the country's future. The country's prospects are hindered by an education system which has an artificial split between the value of vocational and academic training and a job market where the top employers persist in recruiting from a small number of 'elite' universities which remain largely out of reach for many students from poorer backgrounds. Not only are young people denied the chance to fulfil their potential, but we damage the national interest too. In a competitive, globalised economy, organisations need access to the widest possible pool of talent - and our education and careers infrastructure simply doesn't provide enable this. Plus, research from careers guidance expert Professor Tristram Hooley shows that giving the people the right advice to get the right jobs brings unemployment and all its associated costs to the country down.

There are good ideas in all the manifestos, but let's ensure that new policies reflect all of the tools at our disposal. On the one hand, the calls for face-to-face careers guidance and mentoring for all young people seem to be a step forward. As the Chief Executive of Brightside, which supports young people to navigate their further education and career options through mentoring, I am encouraged to see the recognition of the powerful role that mentoring can play in raising aspirations and attainment. However, while the money to make this happen effectively might be in short supply, the charity sector is rich with the ideas and experience necessary to deliver careers guidance in the most cost-effective and impactful fashion.

There are many more options than those set out by the manifestos here - and I would strongly encourage all the parties to engage with the sector to identify good practices. To give just one example, the internet is an ideal platform to connect people looking for information with those who have the requisite experience and understanding. So why restrict young people's access just to the knowledge of their particular careers advisers, or whichever business or university happens to be close by? Online mentoring allows for interests and talents to be identified, and then for young people to be matched with a mentor who can offer them the best and most relevant support, no matter where in the country they are.

And while young people are learning from their mentors, the whole sector could be learning from them. After all, in the experience of Brightside and many of the other charities mentoring young people in a wide variety of ways, young people are endlessly creative. So let's be equally as imaginative when we think about how we support them at these key moments of transition. When the connection and the relationship click, such support can be truly life-changing.