First, it was my experience at the Benefits Agency that made me want to explore the history and development of government responses to social issues. Secondly, it was from what I learnt on my Social Policy degree course about the national Connexions Service*, a holistic approach to careers that looked beyond straightforward advice (few of us have great memories of careers advice at school!) to issues such as what held people back from finding a job.
I really enjoy exploring career opportunities with students. Rather than just matching up someone who says they are interested in business with a business studies course, you need to find out what interests them about business and then explore what they actually mean. It might just be the idea of business they inherited from their family or community if they’re from a culture that attaches lots of kudos to being self-employed - they may not have done any careers thinking for themselves.
Every time we explore, I learn as well. It’s about raising or giving a reality check on aspirations, making some students realise the qualifications they have or are taking mean they can aspire to careers they had never considered. Or, if they don’t have the qualifications to progress in one role, it’s about showing them other routes are possible with existing or additional qualifications.
I was determined to work with 16 to 19-year-olds and young adults as that is a really interesting age for career decision-making and one I knew most about. While at university, I volunteered to work with youth offending teams, mentored year 12 and 13 students, and tried to get as much experience with college-age students as possible.
To become a professional careers adviser, I took the joint Postgrad Diploma/Qualification in Career Guidance (QCG), now called Qualification in Career Development. It teaches you the theory, and the key skills around reflective thinking, activity planning, running group workshops, observation, 1:1 interviews and so on. You also learn how to tease information out of students – career guidance is about giving people tools to explore their interests in different career sectors. You then upload all your reports and recordings on to a QCD record that can be seen by employers. It shows you have passed an assessment in interviewing and group work and that you have that practical experience.
Life skills and experience are also important. Many people on my postgrad course came to the careers sector via lots of different paths.
The hardest time is summer when the results come through and people are trying to get onto university courses. There are sometimes tears because they may have been working and studying for years, particularly if they are mature students who have come back to do access courses and do not get the results they wanted. We have to be around at that time and offer them support and guidance. We sometimes need to speak to the parents of younger students as well.
Definitely. One student wanted to be a pilot and I interviewed him twice. We gathered labour market information on that sector and found a) you had to pay for very expensive flying lessons on top of university degrees and had to invest around £100,000 in qualifications and training, and b) there are many trainees but very few jobs – almost all vacancies are for experienced pilots. We explored all this and, as he had an interest in aircraft anyway, he discussed it all with his family and opted for aeronautical engineering instead! He discovered something he just hadn’t been aware of.
I see hundreds of students every year but the winter term is always full on because we’re supporting students preparing for university and who have to meet January application deadlines. A typical day is about spending time helping students write and hone their personal statements and planning careers events. We also have an ongoing careers programme to support people writing CVs for jobs and advise on apprenticeships.
There are so many! Today I spoke to students in the second year of level 3 courses in a particular subject but with no idea what they wanted to do next. We spent a lot of time looking at various sectors, at jobs within those sectors, and the entry requirements they’ll need.
Ideally, students will already have done this sort of thinking, but careers education and guidance is lacking in many schools. Students often arrive in college without having put much thought into their options and we have to pick up on that.
I just love not knowing who will sit down next, what they will tell me and what support they’ll need! We have many ESOL students (English for speakers of other languages), and both mature and young students, who’ve all come to us via circuitous routes. Everyone’s story is different.
Today I helped a former engineer from Italy find out how to become a professional engineer in the UK and what the requirements are. Next came someone who had been in a pupil referral unit since the age of 14. They’d been excluded from school and still had a long journey ahead of them to prepare for employment.
It might be when I have done some group work on positive thinking with less academically able students who might be writing a CV and then seeing them have that lightbulb moment when they realise they have a lot to offer. I work in the advice centre alongside our counsellors and welfare advisers and between us, we can support students on a number of different levels. It’s about helping them make the right choices - we seem to get lots of thank you’s!
* Connexions has now largely been replaced by the National Careers Service