How to guide students towards careers in technology

By Tori Long

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I’ve been working in IT since leaving university with a degree in IT Management in 2007. Perhaps surprisingly, I didn’t actually study any IT at school. I was lucky enough that when the time came to decide what I wanted to do next in my life, I followed my parents’ advice and picked a course in something I enjoyed doing, rather than just something related to my best subject.

A recent study carried out by the Institute for Fiscal Studies revealed that today’s students will leave university with an average debt of £44,000. Whilst at university I worked various jobs to avoid getting into massive debt while I was studying, but not everyone has the time or work/study balance to do this.

How many of us in our 30s (or even older) are still paying off our student loans?

Over the last couple of years at Head Resourcing I’ve had the opportunity to get involved with a couple of apprenticeship schemes (Prince’s Trust Get Into scheme and QA Apprenticeships) and it’s really opened my eyes to how many amazing opportunities are now out there for school leavers now that don’t want to go down the uni route (and most likely end up in debt because of it).

The government also recently ran National Apprenticeship Week 2015 (9-13 March 2015) and 23,000 apprenticeship vacancies were pledged. This is a great achievement and certainly a move in the right direction.

However, I believe more still needs to be more done to improve people’s awareness of these apprenticeship schemes, within education and with employers. An Ofsted report in September 2013 highlighted the need for improvement within career guidance in schools.

In 2013 the Gatsby foundation commissioned Sir John Holman (Emeritus Professor of Chemistry at the University of York, senior education adviser and former headteacher) to research what could be done to improve career guidance in secondary schools.

Holman identified 8 benchmarks for providing good career guidance:

1. A stable careers programme

Every school and college should have an embedded programme of career education and guidance that is known and understood by pupils, parents, teachers, governors and employers.

2. Learning from career and labour market information

Every pupil, and their parents, should have access to good quality information about future study options and labour market opportunities. They will need the support of an informed adviser to make best use of available information.

3. Addressing the needs of each pupil

Pupils have different career guidance needs at different stages. Opportunities for advice and support need to be tailored to the needs of each pupil. A school’s careers programme should embed equality and diversity considerations throughout.

4. Linking curriculum learning to careers

All teachers should link curriculum learning with careers. STEM subject teachers should highlight the relevance of STEM subjects for a wide range of future career paths.

5. Encounters with employers and employees

Every pupil should have multiple opportunities to learn from employers about work, employment and the skills that are valued in the workplace. This can be through a range of enrichment activities including visiting speakers, mentoring and enterprise schemes.

6. Experiences of workplaces

Every pupil should have first-hand experiences of the workplace through work visits, work shadowing and/or work experience to help their exploration of career opportunities, and expand their networks.

7. Encounters with further and higher education

All pupils should understand the full range of learning opportunities that are available to them. This includes both academic and vocational routes and learning in schools, colleges, universities and in the workplace.

8. Personal guidance

Every pupil should have opportunities for guidance interviews with a career adviser, who could be internal (a member of school staff) or external, provided they are trained to an appropriate level. These should be available whenever significant study or career choices are being made. They should be expected for all pupils but should be timed to meet their individual needs.

(Source: Gatsby – Good Career Guidance)

Following this study, Pricewaterhouse Coopers were commissioned to investigate how much it would cost to implement these benchmarks, and calculated it would only be £54 per pupil. Surely £54 is a very worthwhile investment to ensure future generations have the best career guidance available and avoid the huge debts predicted!

Hopefully by more and more schools implementing the benchmarks highlighted above, along with the cooperation of businesses to demonstrate how young people can take advantage of opportunities, we can open pupils’ eyes to careers they may never have considered.

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