19th September. The Deck at the National Theatre. A clear night sky. And the launch of EY’s strategy to improve careers advice. We had a panel of Sarah Beeny (property presenter), Steve Bartlett (head of Social Chain), Lee Janaway (Harrow College), LJ (from Youth Employment UK) and Florentyne Barrett (Apprentice at EY). All hosted by Jack Parsons (from YourFeed).
We all know careers advice is pretty poor – and has been for a long time – and this was certainly a theme at this panel discussion. (Just listen to David Andrews, who is something of an authority on it.) I’ve heard so many stories of people being told not to bother to go to university or don’t set your sights too high; instead become a secretary! So what’s to be done? How can young people navigate the careers minefield and choose the right career for them? Here’s some advice from the panel:
School is broken – Steve Bartlett and Sarah Beeny, in particular, believe that school is broken. The system is geared towards exams and qualifications – and therefore those that are focused on that, not necessarily helping young people explore what they could do in the future. Plus schools are measured on how many people go to university! I have some sympathy with this, but changing that is a gargantuan task.
Work experience – gives young people a great chance to experience different careers and find what they are interested in. Are employers offering enough opportunities for work experience?
Set your kids free – Sarah Beeny warned us against trying to live our lives through our children. So true. Do we often set them expectations of what they should do, that we ourselves never had as children? Also, we might have a degree of influence over them that we don’t actually appreciate. So we should be careful about making spurious comments about different careers, because they may well be influenced by even a throwaway remark.
Tough love – again Sarah Beeney, mother of four, extolled the virtue of ‘bounce-back-ability’ – i.e. even if you fail at something, you pick yourself up and go again. Is this something you can teach children?
Not all about university – Steve Bartlett dropped out of university after the first lecture. Her mother wouldn’t speak to him for a while after that. But it wasn’t for him. Now he’s running the fastest-growing social media business in the UK, where the average age is 22 – so lots of people who also didn’t go to university. He’s a big advocate of apprenticeships.
All in all, an interesting discussion – albeit this was preaching to the converted. Transforming careers advice can be impacted by parents, no doubt. But equally we (speaking as a parent) still have a limited view of careers, and are normally biased towards certain professions or jobs. The role of careers advice in schools should be a primary focus – and not sure how an employer can change that. It takes government – local and central – to drive change and make careers advice a key part of the school experience.
So what will I tell my kids after this? Quite simply, work hard, always keep learning, get up when you get knocked down and find things you really want to do. Sounds simple, perhaps – and it isn’t. Parents have a huge amount of angst about what their children will do and whether they will be happy. We look at places like university as some kind of surety that our children will be successful. Of course, that’s not always the case. There are plenty of other options; it’s just knowing what they are is not always clear…