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Throughout your time at school or college, teachers will always try and advise you in any way they can to ensure that you are going to smash your exams ready for when you leave. However, not all the advice that is given is always that helpful – in some cases it can cause the confusion to grow rather than decrease.

“You need to have a clear idea of the career you want to do in the future.”

In the past careers advice aimed to help 16 year old students decide on a career by matching their qualities and strengths to a fairly narrow set of job titles.  Now there is a greater understanding of the complexity involved in career planning and decision-making, plus a wider range of possible roles. Increasing emphasis is now placed on the importance of social and career learning theories.  Rather than encouraging students to narrow down their options in order to identify a specific career choice, students are encouraged to explore a broader range of options.

One benefit to this approach is that through taking an active part in research, gaining work experience and networking, students can develop skills that they will need for successful career progression once they have a job. Besides with the rapid developments in science and technology, it is highly likely that new job options will become available, and what is most important is that students are inspired and have the capacity to take up these exciting challenges.

“Chemistry is a better subject to take at A level than Art.”

Or Art is better than Geography… says who?! Some teachers are of course very passionate about their subject area and feel that the subject can offer lots of opportunities and progression routes.

Unfortunately some teachers are keen to recruit students to their subject area, regardless of whether a student has the ability or interest in the course.  Also there is the temptation to think that an academically able student should be encouraged to take on more challenging A level subjects.

There are a number of issues around giving this type of advice. Most importantly a student’s strengths, interests and aptitudes are key to the decision; by ignoring these factors students can end up on a programme of A levels that neither motivate or bring out the best in a student, with longer term effects on future choices.

“You should (or shouldn’t) become a teacher.”

Or an accountant, lawyer, doctor… This advice is highly subjective.  There are students who want to be told what job they should do, and many of these students can be very impressionable.   Teachers’ opinions can have a strong impact on career ideas, either meaning students can dismiss an idea without fully researching its suitability, or they strive to achieve a career goal that does not really satisfy their aspirations.

Suggestions of career areas are helpful as a starting point, but only when backed up with the student being able to really understand what is entailed by the careers that are being suggested to them, as well as a discussion around a young person’s strengths and interests. It is also important to be aware that the labour market is changing rapidly and that when talking to a 16 year old, an adult’s understanding of what a specific career is like, may well be outdated by the time that that 16 year old enters the labour market.

“You are too clever to be a hairdresser.”

Or a builder, plumber, mechanic… It is important not to make the assumption that just because a student is academically gifted, they should not consider a practical or vocational route.

An intelligent and highly motivated young person doing what they love, is more likely to be successful and fulfilled in their chosen career, than one who takes a more “academic” route in order to comply with other people’s expectations.

“You should give up your part time job and focus on your studies.”

A report commissioned by UKCES noted the decline in the percentage of 16/17 year olds who have a part time job whilst they are studying.  One of the reasons cited for this trend is that there is a growing pressure on young people to focus on their studies so that they can maximise their exam grades.

In contrast, the employers surveyed were keen to recruit young people who have work-place skills and experience.  It is of course important to balance studies with part time hours, but by having a part time job, students can gain valuable skills to complement their studies including time management, ability to work with others and financial awareness. It is telling that the vast majority of graduate recruiters require applicants to have work experience.

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