What does the Labour Party manifesto mean for careers?

The Labour Party have now launched their manifesto, which is simply entitled Change. As they are the party most likely to form the new government it is important to think about what it means for the careers sector.

As ever there are lots of people who have offered more detailed analysis of what the whole manifesto means. Novara’s take on it emphasises the fact that it looks like the party is committing to reducing public spending and continuing austerity and worries that even the more positive commitments are undercosted. The Guardian is unsurprisingly more positive, but their explainer is also a little underwhelmed.

There are a few big picture things that I think that it worth saying before I focus in on the careersy bits. Firstly the commitment to arbitrary fiscal rules may prove to be a serious limiter on the capacity of the government to act. They are essentially reducing their capacity to invest in counter-cyclical ways ie to fix the roof while it is actually raining, and this is what has got a lot of people worrying about renewed austerity. Everything is based on economic growth that they have no way of guaranteeing and no real policies to stimulate. More positively there is some interesting thinking about the need for strategic forms of government. I like the ‘missions’ approach which seeks to create government strategy which cross-cuts traditional policy areas and ministries, but as I have written before, they remain pretty vague. I also like the promise to deliver an industrial strategy with broad based civic and business involvement, but the devil will be in the detail as to what it actually delivers. There is also a promise to devolve more power to localities which is likely to be important to the way in which careers is delivered, but again is somewhat light on details.

Careers

The manifesto promises to bring the National Careers Service and Jobcentre Plus together into a national jobs and careers service. This is not without its dangers for careers, but is probably the right decision. The key will be to look out for whether the service has an guarantees on professionalism and how it resists the kind of short-termism and benefit policing that currently characterises Jobcentre Plus’ work.

In schools they promise to guarantee two weeks of work experience for every young person and improve careers advice (although they don’t say how, or what is wrong with it currently). But nonetheless this is welcome focus on the area. £85 million has been put aside for this task which is in the ball park of we argued was needed in Investing in Careers which we published last year.

There is also a proposal for a Youth Guarantee, which doesn’t explicitly mention career guidance, but presumably would need to include some way for young people to be identified and directed into the training programmes that are proposed. This could be delivered through the Youth Futures programme, which is an inter-professional hub (including careers advisers; from where?) which is designed to tackle youth crime. This looks very like the most targeted bit of Connexions and once again the devil will be in the detail. This is costed at £95 million plus another £20 million for youth workers in various other places. This is a bit on the low side, but should be able to achieve something.

Education

The ‘opportunity’ mission is now mainly focused on education policies. The biggest promise is on childcare and early years (3000 new nurseries). I’ll leave others with more knowledge of this policy area to comment on this. There is some blah, blah, blah on school standards, some new training for head teachers and then the promise to recruit 6500 new ‘expert teachers’ (which seems a pretty low number to me) and doesn’t really engage with the retention issues that seem critical to managing the teacher workforce.

On skills and post-16 there will be a new strategic body (Skills England) and rebranding of colleges and further integration with higher education. On HE there is an admission that the funding system doesn’t work and a promise to do something about it (vague much!).

Employment

In addition to the reorganisation of the public employment service the party are also promising to do some more fundamental things on employment policy. Some more detail on these plans is set out in Labour’s plan to make work pay which is a sort of subsidiary manifesto that they released last week. This is essentially about strengthening workers rights, reducing precarity, raising the minimum wage, improving enforcement of the law. There is some genuinely positive stuff in this, although again the big ticket items around pay, precarity and unionisation will require more detail.

Overall

I have to admit that in general I have somewhat fallen out of love with the Labour Party over the last couple of years. Their relentless caution and unwillingness to lead opinion, combined with their ruthless belief that the ends justify the means (see this piece by Moya Lothian-Mclean), and their willingness to get into bed with corporate interests, makes them difficult to be enthusiastic about.

The manifesto has its strengths and weaknesses. Its vagueness and reliance on rhetoric over substance is the biggest one. But, there is an ocean between what is promised for the careers sector and for workers and what the Conservative Manifesto (see my post on this) offered. The education policies are disappointing, but it will probably be an area that will get more attention. So overall this represents (I think) a step forwards from where we are now. Let’s hope that when they get into power the details hide more angels than devils.

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