Careers education and guidance has been a truly European and international endeavour for more than a generation. Insularity and isolation do not work for us. The UK has benefited greatly from progressive European policies and funding to promote research and development, continuing professional development for careers practitioners, study and internship opportunities for young people and initiatives to tackle youth unemployment and improve vocational education and training. The leaders in our field in the UK have thrived on the European stage. Individuals such as Tony Watts, Bill Law, John McCarthy, Jenny Bimrose, Hazel Reid and Tristram Hooley are held in high esteem in Europe and around the world. It has meant that when called on, we have been able to lead developments in policy and practice across the EU (helped not least by English being the lingua franca of many projects) but, more importantly, we have gained enormously from the cross-fertilisation of ideas and collaboration with careers leaders in other EU states such as Peter Plant (Denmark), Raimo Vuorinen (Finland), Annemarie Oomen and Frans Meijers (The Netherlands), Ronald Sultana (Malta), Tibor Bors Borbely-Pecze (Hungary), Raoul Van Esbroeck (Belgium), Jean Guichard (France), Laura Nota (Italy) and Bernhard Jenschke (Germany) to name but a few. They may not be household names in schools up and down the country but they have had a huge influence on us, for example, on initiatives such as the Gatsby benchmarks which will be a key part of the forthcoming careers strategy for England.
At times, our participation in European initiatives has been the only thing preventing professional meltdown in the face of government indifference, especially in relation to careers professionals in England since the advent of Connexions and then the Coalition government. It was Michael Gove after all who abolished statutory careers education and insinuated that there had never been a golden age of careers guidance in England. Being in Europe lends support to those of us who believe that careers guidance is a public good and worth investing in. That’s not to say that prioritising careers policy-making in Europe is an easy thing to do; but unexpected breakthroughs happen. It is likely, for example, that Malta will back a new resolution on careers guidance when it assumes the Presidency in the first half of next year.
Backing out of Europe now does not make sense when education and labour markets are becoming ever more connected and European cooperation can actually help us tackle critical issues such as promoting social mobility, fairness and sustainable development.
The European Dimension has enriched my professional life immeasurably from the time I first taught careers in a school in Brussels in the 1980s. The professional and cultural loss to the next generation of careers practitioners if we left the EU would be immense.
Anthony Barnes is writing here in a personal capacity.