Anyone who’s taught at secondary level will know that as students approach the end of their studies the world of work starts to feel a lot more real.
Students start to rely on us not just for teaching but also for career advice – which isn’t something teachers always feel they have the capacity to provide.
The idea that teachers need to equip students for life beyond the classroom as well as providing regular teaching can be a controversial one.
I know from my own experience that finding time to dedicate to careers guidance can be difficult, especially since there’s rarely the opportunity to deviate from the curriculum in lessons.
And, for me at least, free periods belong to planning, marking and one to one feedback.
There are also practical aspects to consider including whether teachers have the specialist knowledge and skills needed to give advice on every potential career path.
As a media teacher at a specialist media school, I’m the first to admit my career knowledge is fairly narrow, and I wouldn’t pretend to have all the answers for a student looking to go into engineering or law, for example.
What teachers certainly do have however are the soft skills needed by almost all employers in almost all jobs.
Soft spot for soft skills
Global Academy specialises in broadcast and digital media. We’re lucky to have a Head of External Relations and Careers who works closely with the media industry to forge working partnerships with employers.
Our students are also able to access work experience opportunities, which give them an entryway into the media industry and the staff a window into what employers are looking for.
And, beyond the necessary technical skills, what shines through is the need for students to have basic communication, teamwork and problem-solving abilities.
One of the best pieces of feedback I ever received from a student was a boy who’d recently left school and gone straight into work.
We were talking about the technical job he’d just accepted and, given it’s not a world I knew a lot about, I was surprised when he thanked me for helping him get the position.
He explained when he’d gone in for his interview he’d used skills from an interview techniques session I’d run, and he felt that was what had put him above the other candidates.
It’s always gratifying to hear that your teaching has helped put a student on a path to success, but as a person who had to seek out interview training after leaving school, I felt particularly proud of this.
From the horse’s mouth
I recently went to CanvasCon, Instructure’s edtech conference in Barcelona, to talk about Global Academy is working to give our students the right skills for work.
Alongside colleagues from other schools, and employers from international companies, we talked about how sometimes the hardest skills for businesses to teach on the job are not technical, but soft.
It can be easy to assume that a student who has a strong grasp of the job-specific skills needed for their preferred career will be able to excel straightaway.
However, no matter how technically well prepared they are they’re going to struggle if they don’t know how to write a professional email, or communicate effectively with a client.
Our job as teachers isn’t just to provide our students with knowledge, but also to give them the tools to express that knowledge in the workplace.
So, as I watch my Year 11s and Year 13s planning their next steps – I can’t help but feel a bit nervous on their behalf.
None of us really know what the future of work is going to look like, and it’s understandable that today’s students might be anxious about what their careers will entail.
However, it would certainly be unfair to suggest that teachers should be teaching skills for jobs that don’t exist yet.
What is certain though is that there will always be a need for students to be able to communicate and work together in a professional setting, just like they’ll always need to know how to write a CV and prepare for an interview.
These are the areas where teachers can provide indispensable advice and support, and where we can give our students a leg up for their lives beyond the classroom.
Jordi Alborch is a visual teacher at Global Academy, Hayes.
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