“If you can find someone who’ll pay you to do something you really enjoy then don’t let them out of your sight”. This wise advice was given to the esteemed journalist John Oaksey by his father.
As we enter A level results season it’s worth reflecting on this story because it illustrates three sizeable flaws in our careers system.
Firstly, in order to get paid for working, each individual must satisfy the needs of an employer. Finding employment is a two-way negotiation (and academic grades aren’t necessarily the answer).
Secondly, it demonstrates the importance of parents in the career decision making process.
Sadly, in our existing careers system, these two critical factors are often obscured by the interests of other stakeholders.
Finally, the story demonstrates that careers advice is most effective when the individual knows what they want to be in life. Unfortunately, most young people remain uncertain of their “calling” long after they have been forced to narrow their options in our academic system.
I have observed a great deal of careers activity in 25 years as candidate, employer and as a volunteer in schools. I fear the careers system today isn’t any better at supporting the long term needs of the individual than it was last century.
Today’s A level students might expect multiple different jobs and “careers” during their working lives. Yet we send young people out into the world without the language they need to negotiate their career development. I consider this to be negligence.
In John Oaksey’s case, he became a journalist in order to write about horse racing. He got paid to write about races in which he rode as an amateur jockey. He used his skills as jockey and writer to earn a living within his favourite industry. This is intelligent career thinking.
We don’t incorporate these elements of negotiation and planning in careers provision in UK. Instead we concentrate on academic attainment and the process of job application. These things suit schools and recruiters, but do not suit young people.
Traditional careers activity assumes that an academic qualification, with a “strong” CV will result in a job, and that a meaningful, secure career will automatically follow any job offer. These assumptions simply don’t hold true in real life.
Individuals need more than knowledge of the application process in order to manage career changes. After all, even great jobs can be affected by economic, technological or cultural change.
Sir Ken Robinson, in his famous TED talk, noted that an academic education system prevents individuals from realising potential that isn’t measured in the academic sense. His criticism of such education systems is ten years old, and yet little has changed.
We already know that academic performance has no bearing on suitability for work or performance in work. Employers tell us that they value attitude and commercial awareness above academic attainment.
We know that employers are not satisfied with careers advice available to young people, or levels of work-readiness amongst those leaving education.
Critically, young people don’t appear to be aware of these facts.
We know that rates of youth unemployment, incidence of mental illness amongst young job-seekers, failure rates of student loan repayments, numbers of under-employed Graduates all prove that young people dislike the current system.
We know that the incentives facing schools in terms of league tables and funding can “encourage” schools to neglect issues that do not have such strong incentives, such as careers provision. The education select committee have been commenting on this for years.
In light of these problems, it is no surprise that most individuals are unable to engage a friendly employer, even if they can keep one in sight.
This is where the role of parents is most important. The prevailing interests of schools, universities and employers are rarely aligned with the interests of the job-seeker. Parents need to demand more from careers provision.
My company recently surveyed 1,000 parents of 16-23 year olds. The results show 73% of young people are not certain what they want to do for a living. In addition, 79% of parents felt that young people were more focussed on academic progression than on planning for life after exams. These figures result in heartache and disappointment within our jobs market.
It isn’t the exclusive purpose of education to create work-ready employees, but it is necessary to prepare young people for work more efficiently than at present.
I recently submitted recommendations to the Department for Education calling for a broader range of subjects throughout school and the creation of at least one hour per week within the school timetable that would be used for careers training.
The hour would be ring-fenced from any national curriculum activity. There are plenty of impartial resources to support individuals, they just need time to use them.
I don’t imagine anybody involved wants the system to fail young people. But I do question why the long term career needs of the individual job-seeker are not better represented.
When A level results are released, spare a thought for the uphill battle most students will have to get employed. They weren’t prepared for it.