Preparing for Tomorrow's World

Preparing For Tomorrow's World – Article from John Catt's Which School? 2018

"My role as careers advisor focuses on getting to know the pupils, their strengths and weaknesses and guiding them towards the best opportunities available here which will take them on to the next stage.” - In this article our Head of Careers James O'Hanlon explains the importance of careers guidance.

If I think back to the careers advice I was given at school, it seemed to be focussed almost entirely on the subject you were going on to study after school, rather than on any career per se. ‘Jobs’ were something a long way off and, for most of us, determined by chance rather than research or planning. Pupils today are faced with a myriad of choices, which can be overwhelming. I see my role as guiding them through these choices to enable them to take advantage of the many opportunities beyond the school gates.

Futurologists remind us that many of the jobs of the future don’t exist today, just as roles involving social media were unknown only 15 years ago. Examples of well paid jobs we can anticipate include ‘elderly well-being consultant’, ‘vertical farmer’ (the farming of crops upwards rather than across flat fields) or ‘nano-medic’ (the creation of very small implants for health monitoring and self-medication). The only limit is our imagination.

Just as the world of work has transformed in the last few decades so, I am pleased to say, has the world of careers guidance. Today, developing the right skills for employers is no longer just subject-specific. Of far greater importance is guiding pupils towards the development of aptitudes and skills which are transferable to a range of different roles. Achieving excellent grades is often a given and other factors are now equally, if not more, important; how well you interview, whether you can show an aptitude for what you want to do and are genuinely excited by it, whether you can cope when things get tough, how quickly you learn and apply what you learn and how you can make yourself stand out from a crowd.

Interestingly, up to 70 per cent of roles offered by companies are ‘degree-blind’* – ie it’s a case of meeting the employers’ criteria, regardless of the specifics of your degree. The first step for many job opportunities is made online, meaning you don’t have the luxury of selling yourself through a CV and face-to-face interview when embarking on an application. The NHS, one of the UK’s largest graduate employers, is just one organisation to adopt this recruitment strategy for non-medical roles. Developing strong numeracy and verbal reasoning skills and having an ability to navigate these screening procedures is crucial to moving to the interview stage where there is a chance to engage on a face-to-face basis.

In short, as careers counsellors, we need to be much smarter about the world of work and how we guide young people to work towards the best openings. Here at Dauntsey’s, my role as careers advisor focuses on getting to know the pupils, their strengths and weaknesses, and guiding them towards the best opportunities available here that will take them on to the next stage. I am fortunate to have had experience in industry as well as teaching, and I invest a lot of energy in connecting the pupils with the world of work.

We run a programme of events where we highlight a particular sector. For example, a recent event focused on agri-business. A range of roles were represented by experts: biotech, food retailing, disease control in livestock, drone development, commodities trading and marketing. Sixth Form pupils had the opportunity to explore the multi-faceted aspects of this industry and the roles therein. They were surprised that, of the 20 people representing sectors within agri-business, only one was an actual farmer, and even he had another role in purchasing for a major food retailer.

Another event focused on sport. Many pupils here have a great love of sport – both viewing and participating in it. Twelve individuals representing different roles highlighted that behind every professional sportsperson lies a team of physiotherapists, sponsorship managers, marketing executives, nutritionists and agents. Certainly food for thought for those who realise they may not be the next Andy Murray but want to be in that world.

We also run evenings based on the speed-dating format where pupils have multiple mini-meetings with a wide range of professionals. All career events that we run include an aspect of networking where pupils are encouraged to “work the room” and recognise the importance of building contacts and being able to open up opportunities. We have a network of contacts across a wide range of industries, drawn from the community, Old Dauntseians and existing parents. They are very generous with their time and keen to share their knowledge and the journey they have taken to reach their career goals. This is enormously beneficial for the pupils to hear.

We encourage pupils to look at developing skills outside their areas of strength and competence. Many future roles will place them outside their comfort zone and being prepared to operate in such situations is an attractive attribute to display to a prospective employer. Bringing something extra always enhances an application and pupils are encouraged to have this in mind as they decide what to take up and what to drop during their school career. Can they keep up one language – so critical in today’s global economy? Would drama improve their presentation skills? Would involvement in team sports show that they are a team player?

We help pupils find work experience, although there is increasing competition from university students seeking the same opportunities in the first years of their degree. There is a wider understanding that the sooner you can secure relationships in the world of work the better, it’s not a case of leaving it until you graduate. Work experience can often come through contacts and connections which are crucial and it’s never too early to start building them. We have a mentoring programme which gives pupils the opportunity to learn from Old Dauntseians and parents, pick their brains, explore options and discover new possibilities.

A new – and growing – option is the world of apprenticeships where work is combined with study. They present a great opportunity for some and can be a lot more cost-effective than the university route. Certainly, they move you onto the employment track sooner, although they can’t replicate the life-enriching opportunity university presents to study a subject at the very highest level.

I am pleased to say that pupils leaving Dauntsey’s go on to pursue a wide and varied range of careers. Looking back at School class lists and photographs, it’s fascinating to reflect on what they have gone on to be – barristers and solicitors, doctors and nurses, journalists and press secretaries, chemical engineers and F1 design engineers, biotechnologists and Artificial Intelligence designers, architects and museum curators, NGO officers and social workers and, I am pleased to say, teachers and lecturers.

All of them, I hope, would acknowledge that the route to their chosen career has not always been straightforward and that in most cases it is the attributes beyond academic results which have made the difference to their journey.

We live in an ever-changing world but one certainty is that young people must be prepared for change, continually expand their skill set and seize every opportunity that comes their way.