From education to employment

Going beyond the syllabus – next steps post 16

It’s a tough time to be young. On the one hand youths in the UK have never had more opportunities. Thousands of career options exist, many of which would never have been available to their parents. Despite a reduction in the number of degree courses available, over 50,000 different courses are on offer, in addition to GCSE, A level, BTEC and vocational studies. Investment in apprenticeship schemes has risen to a high of £1.4 billion and there are over 700 City & Guilds approved local training centres in the UK offering support and training.

Yet at the same time unemployment rates are slowly falling but still dramatically high compared to previous generations, and barely a day goes by without media hype about a lost generation. Combine this with stratospheric university fees and scares that degrees are worthless anyway, and it’s no wonder that there’s so much confusion about what to do, where to go, and how to get there.

I have spoken to different people who may have some ideas about the next steps after compulsory education is over and a new stage begins.

Quentin Crowe, group managing director at The Marketers Forum, a company that provides part time Chartered Institute of Marketing, Market Research Society and communication, advertising and marketing courses, believes that whatever the next step is, it should start with widening the skill set that formal education provides. With over 20 years experience himself, and working with numerous people starting out in the field, he has seen that academic study is often an isolated experience, and without contact and context doesn’t teach the skills necessary to thrive in a professional environment, whereas work-based learning and professional courses can provide an understanding of how to present oneself in the business world.

Both Quentin and John Linkins, a history teacher at Allerton High School, pointed to key skills that employers look for such as presentation, team work and self-motivation, and recommended taking any next step that involves cultivating these skills. Linkins said “employers are finding young people unskilled in the basic requirements of the workplace such as computer literacy, punctuality and good written and spoken English”.

These skills matter, as Crowe put it: “As a candidate for any career you are a sum of your attitude, your skill and your experience.”

Whilst intelligence and qualifications have a big influence, it is not the only way to impress, and is certainly not the whole package. Crowe referred to this as “broader intelligence”, whilst Yasmina Siadatan, creative director of Start Up Loans, a government scheme that lends money to young people aged 18-30 to support and start their businesses, described the combination of aspirations, capabilities and opportunities as “personal power.”

So how do you go about developing this package, if you think of the package as yourself as a marketable candidate to employers? Extracurricular activities such as sports, volunteering, and joining clubs and groups all help according to Linkins.

“Anything that might show a will to succeed, an interest in a certain field, commitment, determination or team working skills,” he said.

“All employers will look for these as a sign of a well-rounded individual who can be taught the knowledge needed for a job rather than someone with knowledge who needs to be taught life skills … an almost impossible job for an employer.”

In fact, the biggest success stories for Crowe have been for students who have found a work placement and learned the importance of how to apply their skills and learning to the real world.

“Go beyond the syllabus,” he said, “and link with employers to open doors.”

Formal and academic education isn’t necessarily a bad idea. But what is important is that it is right for you.

“I would really encourage anyone considering university to behave as a consumer, and ask the value of the qualification that they are considering,” said Crowe.

“With the aforementioned spiralling fees, this is valuable advice – and can best be achieved by doing your research.”

If there is one thing that all of those I spoke to agreed on, it was the value of talking, networking, questioning, and researching. Whether enrolling in Further Education, starting your own business, undertaking a professional qualification or getting a job, you will always be in a better position if armed with information.

Francesca Baker is a freelance writer, covering education, marketing and events – visit her blog at And So She Thinks

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