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Careers advice for students – 3 persistent myths and how schools should tackle them

Andrew Bernard calls out the fallacies underpinning the notion that the UK enjoys ‘equality of opportunity’ and offers advice for you to provide better careers guidance for students soon to graduate from Secondary school...

  • Careers advice for students – 3 persistent myths and how schools should tackle them

In Britain we like to feed the idea that every young person has equal access to the tools of success, and the employability skills to access the career of their choice, regardless of background. Sadly, this notion doesn’t hold up under scrutiny.

In my book, The Ladder, I devote a whole chapter to dispelling some of these career planning myths and suggest how to tackle them – some of which I’ll share with you here…

Myth 1 – where you’re from doesn’t affect your life chances

What if you’re from one of the ‘cold spots’ identified by the Careers and Enterprise Company with high unemployment since the closure of heavy industry? What if your family has decided that college and university ‘aren’t for the likes of us’?

The Sutton Trust has found that young people from less-privileged backgrounds often lack the support and career guidance needed to overcome such attitudes, convincing intelligent children that university isn’t ‘worth getting into debt for’, even if they’re perfectly capable of heading down that course.

Writing in the book RIFE: 21 Stories From Britain’s Youth, Ilyas Nagdee makes an important observation about progression to university for young people from BAME backgrounds: “The university on my doorstep was very different to the Manchester I grew up in … quite often in cities like Manchester, huge universities are close to areas with low progression into university, and the communities nearby benefit least from these gigantic institutions.”

University outreach activity is important, but it needs to focus on supporting specific communities around each institution. After attending a Manchester University open day, ‘Lured by the promise of food,’ Nagdee found that he enjoyed the experience, understood that he belonged there and became determined to go to Birmingham University.

Once there, he joined the university’s Black Ambassador scheme and went on to become Black Students’ Officer for the NUS.

Action: Research your local universities and their outreach programmes to find out how your students might benefit from visits, sessions on student finance and so forth.

Myth 2 – A work placement or apprenticeship is the ‘less-academic option’

Research by the facilities company ABM UK in 2018 found that among 4,000 parents and students, 43% of parents saw apprenticeships as a poorly paid, second-rate option for young people who had ‘failed their exams’.

In fact, apprenticeships support the acquisition of higher skills, are focused on employability and leave young people debt-free. There’s one aspect of apprenticeships that betrays the social mobility cause, however. In many instances, higher apprenticeships will affect any family incomes that are conditional on tax credits, Universal Credit and housing benefit. Professional careers education, information, advice and guidance advice is therefore essential when deciding on pathways.

Action: Consider local employers’ apprenticeship offerings, ask them to speak to your students and ensure your careers team are up-to-date on how apprenticeships may affect a post-16 student’s family finances.

Myth 3 – Stereotypes aren’t an issue for career options and job hunting

For its ‘Drawing The Future’ research project, the Education & Employers charity tasked 20,000 7- to 11-year-olds with drawing a range of people and their careers. The researchers observed that gender stereotyping was very much alive and well, and firmly established among 7-year-olds.

Action: Stereotypes need to be tackled consciously. Gender, race, age, disability – all need to be considered when broadening the career plan horizons of the children we work with.

I would argue that every teacher is, in some ways, a careers teacher, since all teachers leave an impact when supporting children in their development of knowledge and confidence.


Andrew ‘Bernie’ Bernard is an entrepreneur and director of both Innovative Enterprise and National Careers Week. The Ladder: Supporting students towards successful futures and confident career choices is available now (Crown House Publishing, £16.99).

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