Careers no longer have to be linear - let’s reflect that in our conversations
Our Schools Marketing Manager, Rob Parsley, discusses the changing nature of careers and why we need to talk more during National Careers Week.
I wanted to be a professional footballer. Or a cartoonist. Or, ideally, both.
Ask a child what they want to be when they grow up and their responses will probably be a mixture of predictable, off-the-wall or surprisingly inspired. But what they aren’t likely to be is an accurate indication of how their careers will eventually unfold.
And this is even truer today than it was those many (many!) years ago when I harboured my hybrid sporting/artistic ambitions. Because, today, striking the right balance between your career, family, friends, finances and personal wellbeing is more complicated than ever.
Likewise, the notion of having a ‘job for life’ is completely alien to most of us. Since graduating, whenever I’ve considered changing jobs or pursuing further training, older family members have reacted with scepticism. Their lifelong vocational careers as accountants, insurance clerks and police officers couldn’t be further away from my more fluid career path, and the nature of my work – and working pattern – completely baffles them.
And this is why, when we talk about careers in an educational context, we need to be mindful that the very nature of careers is always evolving, and careers education – and the constant conversations that need to accompany this in schools – should reflect that.
Career paths can be squiggly
So, what’s changed? In short, everything.
In my current role, for example, where I work as a marketing manager promoting Teach First and our training programmes to schools, I benefit from an ‘agile working’ approach. This has made a huge difference to how and where I – and my Teach First colleagues all over the country – work. I’m writing this from our office in Bristol but could equally have done so from my desk at home.
Finding new opportunities is also much easier thanks to technology. There are thousands of job adverts at your fingertips when the time is right to take that next step. And platforms like LinkedIn make professional networking much less intimidating.
These new working practices have facilitated a new breed of career paths. Ones that, in the words of Helen Tupper and Sarah Ellis, can be ‘squiggly’ instead of linear.
Let’s examine one such career. Imagine a doctor who wants to try their hand at something new. Being a doctor means they possess transferable skills that leads them to a new role as a pilot officer in the Royal Air Force Medical Branch. From there, they use their knowledge of medicine to help write scripts for a medical drama. This gives them a taste for fiction, and they go on to become a full-time writer, novelist and TV producer with a CV boasting hit series like Bodyguard and Line of Duty. Sounds like a work of fiction itself, but that’s precisely the career path of Jed Mercurio who, in his younger days, wanted to be an astronaut. From what I’ve seen and heard, he still might become one.
Besides celebrating the rather absurd talents of one person, this goes to show the fluid nature of modern careers. In other words, we have more opportunities in the world of work than ever before. But with more opportunities come even more complications.
Replacing career plans with career possibilities
And that’s why schools have such a crucial role to play to keep their pupils fully informed about the abundance of options available to them across the course of their whole career. That’s a pretty daunting task given the rate of change and the variety of careers now on offer. With so many opportunities to choose from, it can be difficult to work out what’s right for each person. But perhaps we need to accept that there is no ‘right’ answer. Instead, we should be encouraging young people to embrace flexible career possibilities instead of fixed career paths, whilst simultaneously giving them the decision-making skills they need to navigate this increasingly-complex map.
To make it easier for schools to talk about careers with their pupils, we’ve created a ‘Post-school success toolkit’. It’s designed by former teachers, for teachers, and contains valuable information about a range of post-school options at all key stages and phases.
But it’s not just the responsibility of schools to get careers education right. Employers have a shared duty to give the next generation the skills and experiences they need to succeed across a variety of training and development routes. This includes apprenticeships, though it’s disappointing that hundreds of millions of pounds intended for training apprentices is not being used by some of the country’s biggest employers.
Work experience placements are also crucial. That's why the Gatsby Benchmarks are so important for schools, particularly those serving low-income communities. Young people need exposure to a range of environments and opportunities to find out what opportunities might fit with their talents and interests. Unfortunately, this is also much less common for children from poorer areas.
Let’s talk careers
Today (2 March) marks the start of National Careers Week. It’s fast becoming a key fixture in the academic calendar, when schools take time to really focus on careers education. And we want to use the opportunity to get more people talking about their careers and the range of routes they’ve taken to get to where they are.
Because the more information people have at their disposal, the more informed choices they can make for their futures. As we’ve recently highlighted in our STEMinism campaign, it can be difficult to be what you can’t see. We all need role models for our careers, with success stories from people we can each relate to – whether that’s based on background, gender or other shared values and characteristics.
To encourage these conversations, you’ll see various Teach First employees and friends from our network sharing their experiences on our social media channels throughout this week. We’d love you to join in with our ‘Talking Careers Challenge’, too. Follow and tag the #NCW2020 hashtag if you do choose to share your experiences.
National Careers Week is our chance to shine a light on all the possible career options, experiences and guidance available for schools. Together we can unlock the potential of all children – in school, in work, and in life. You never know, it might just help young people to become the next generation of doctors, writers, astronauts – or all of the above.
Find out how your school can benefit from our support for careers education for pupils and continuing professional development for teachers.