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What does effective careers guidance look like in school?

Some young people will have careers aspirations from a young age, whilst others will flutter though the school years wanting a change in career every week or not really thinking about it at all. As part of our National Student Awards last year we focussed on celebrating the aspirations and achievements of our students, and when we asked them what they hoped to be when they left school we had a plethora of careers thrown our way.

Paramedic. Olympian. Psychologist. Nurse. Coach. Engineer. Bus Driver. Biologist. Designer. Fireman. Ballerina. Solicitor. Lecturer. Lawyer. Baker. Teacher. Journalist.

Whilst it is fantastic that our young people have these dreams, the key to helping them achieve them, much like most goals in life, is to help them understand the steps it takes to getting there. As educators it is important that we have a strong careers education programme in place, so that our students can understand their chosen pathways, and the stepping stones they’ll face on their journeys ahead.

To help ease the overwhelming uncertainty that comes with making decisions and taking steps towards a chosen career, we are sharing with you some of our thoughts on what a good careers guidance programme looks like in schools today.

Introduce the idea of career development at a young age

Careers guidance should be brought into the school curriculum from a young age – some may even argue primary ages. Getting young people thinking about their options, without pressure, can help to take some of the pressure off in later life. Give them a headstart by introducing careers days as a fun and accessible addition to enrichment programmes.

Understand that aspirations vary

Not everyone wants an academic career. You may find that vocational career paths, including the popular apprenticeship routes, are becoming more attractive to younger people. Alternatively, others may aim for the more traditionally academic careers such as law, Education or medicine. Whilst some might not realise there are pathways into careers they thought were out of their reach. Educate young people about the wide array of options available to them, as this will ease the anxiety around what students ‘should’ be aiming for.

Understand the realities of the market

Invite specialists in different fields into your school to talk to not only your students but your teaching staff about the realities of the job market. It’s important that what you are teaching is reflective of the truth and that students get a good understanding of the challenges ahead.

Introduce careers skills into all subjects

Don’t just save careers based lessons for PSHE. There are plenty of skills needed to get you to where you want to be that are relevant across the curriculum. For example, you could get your History students learning about archiving and filing, or English students adapting their writing styles for cover letters or CVs. We’ve all done that maths lesson working out change from a purchase!

Organise visits to the ‘real world’

Take students out into the working world on enrichment day trips. Help them understand what it is like to go to university or to join an apprenticeship. Introduce them to different sectors and arrange for them, where possible, to get hands on.

Give them someone to talk to

Assigning students with a personal mentor for careers guidance gives them a sense of comfort that they have someone they can turn to for advice. Have that person follow up with them throughout their time at school but also, again where possible, further down the line. Make sure that their mentor is understanding, inspirational yet impartial. Offer the students good advice and encouragement, but let them be the agents of their decisions.