This summer, around 800,000 16- and 18-year olds (Yr11 and Yr13) will be collecting their exam results and trying to decide what to do next. But this year is like no other and, as well as having had their exams cancelled, these young people are facing some serious challenges.

The post Covid-19 economy will almost certainly be a changed one, with shifting skills gaps. While opportunities in sectors like digital technology and health care are likely to grow exponentially over the next few years, other industries like creative arts and hospitality will take time to recover from the pandemic’s huge hit.

We know that youth unemployment is soaring, with record numbers of 18- to 24-year-olds claiming benefits. While least affected health-wise from Covid-19, this group is set to suffer most in terms of opportunities. A huge reduction in apprenticeship starts over the last few months already reflects lower demand from businesses.

This is why high-quality careers education has never been so important. Yet it is no secret that we are failing as a nation to meet minimum careers education benchmarks. Only half of the Gatsby National Careers Education Benchmarks have been achieved nationally and the next state of the nation report is unlikely to show any dramatic improvement. This is an even bigger problem in the post Covid-19 world.

Far from being simply ‘nice to have’, careers education must be firmly embedded in the country’s recovery plan as we move forward. Young people must be provided with comprehensive information about the state of the job market and opportunities on offer.

Careers guidance can’t wait until young people are walking out the door

Having worked hard for exams, only to have them cancelled – coupled with the wellbeing impacts of lockdown – we are dealing with a surge of unmotivated young people, many of whom are anxious and worried about their future. The joy of finishing exams and going off on holiday before moving to university is a dream shattered for many and we must provide them with hope that they do have a fulfilling future ahead. The economy is changing and the world will take time to recover economically and socially, but opportunities will be available. We just need to ensure that young people are well informed about their prospects.

Despite closures, many schools are working with employers to understand the changing skills demands so they can guide young people onto career pathways with longevity and opportunity. But careers guidance can’t wait until young people are walking out the door. It has to start much earlier, with the imperative of ensuring the next generation know that there is more to the world’s economy than National Curriculum-related careers. Students and parents need exposure to the diverse careers in many new and growing sectors.

Not only does good careers education enable a young person to focus on their required studies, it motivates and inspires them to succeed. This is absolutely crucial in the current climate, as we battle with huge negativity and a ‘bad news’-focused media. To do this effectively, employers must be consulted and industry has to take a central role in educating people about the many career opportunities available. Without this, skills gaps will continue to remain unfilled and youth unemployment will continue to rise sharply. Private investment is also required to complement government initiatives, and should be encouraged.

We know schools are having to catch up on missed time with students, and they are expected to focus on ‘core subjects’ from September, for at least 2 terms. Yet many young people will be making life-changing decisions as they choose GCSE options or A levels, without opprtunities to explore the world of work whicj are too often classed as ‘enrichment activities’.

We need long-term funding strategy and the Government must, absolutely, make this an integral part of its much-touted economic stimulus package – for the benefit of both our nation’s future generation and economy.

But there is no need to wait. Employers need to know there is a pipeline of talent to see them into this uncertain future, and young people need to know there are opportunities awaiting them beyond this crisis. Schools can play an important part in bringing them together locally to build a better future for their communities.