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Careers advice in schools must change to give students the skills they need

Jenifer Cameron outlines why traditional thinking around careers guidance ought to give way to a different, more far-reaching approach...

  • Careers advice in schools must change to give students the skills they need

It’s long been common practice in schools for students to complete work experience placements as a complement to their education, but these programmes usually provide only a brief glimpse of a specific work environment.

Additionally, the careers advice students receive is typically designed to help them with their immediate next steps after school, rather than broadening their aspirations and arming them with the broader skills and knowledge they’ll need to succeed in the world of employment.

As a result, we’ve seen a growing gap between between the preparation for work that employers expect to see, and the preparation that school leavers have actually received. However, there are several measures schools can start adopting now to ensure their students possess skills they’ll need to thrive in their subsequent.

Confidence building

Developing confidence in students is a vital step towards helping them lead happy and successful lives. Confident people are more likely to believe in the skills they possess, the goals they have and their ability to succeed, and thus become motivated and proactive workers.

Schools should therefore pursue learning opportunities that encourage students to build up their levels of competence, improve their problem-solving skills and develop their readiness to work independently.

Alongside that, there should be efforts made to foster students’ curiosity and encourage them to see mistakes as building blocks for learning.

Schools need to open doors to new experiences, which could mean having to think outside the box. Traditional careers education will often involve presentations from experts in particular fields, but schools can also look into more novel approaches.

Visiting an art gallery or a live performance, for example (albeit once pandemic restrictions are sufficiently eased). Cultural projects and experiences will help students better understand the place of art and creativity within wider society, and the job opportunities available in the creative industries, but also allow them to explore their own means of self-expression – which can, in itself, help boost an individual’s confidence.

Community spirit

Helping students develop more in the way of real-world skills is obviously important for ensuring that school leavers and graduates can successfully negotiate the transition from education to employment.

It’s notable that Ofsted, following feedback from employers and a review of its own inspection framework, has now determined that careers education is an important
area for it to assess.

To deliver a well-rounded careers education, schools should look beyond how careers advice and guidance has traditionally been defined, and do more to demonstrate direct links between core subjects and the real world. To this end, community links can be an incredibly valuable resource; they can demonstrate to students the sheer breadth of opportunities available to them, while also providing practical and meaningful experiences that students can get involved with.

Your local police station, for example, might host a ‘go and see’ day, where students can learn powerful lessons around importance of clear and rapid communication.

Partnering with a local charity to set up a volunteer programme can help raise awareness and perform a social good, while also instilling different aspirations among those students considering a more altruistic career path.

Alternatively, why not try setting up a workshop on business development that includes a ‘pitch to investors’ activity? This can help vividly illustrate how important critical thinking, communication and creativity skills are for business development and growth.

I would urge all teachers and schools to reflect on their existing practice and consider whether it’s enabling students to truly flourish after school. If there’s room for improvement, now is the time develop a new approach. One that will genuinely address the knowledge and skills gaps that are being seen among school leavers.

One that leverages the power of community resources – and one that will set today’s students on course to really thrive in the years to come.


Jenifer Cameron is the CEO of Action4Youth; for more information, visit action4youth.org/enrichment.

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