I want to be a…

Getting pupils and students to positively engage with the careers services available to them is a challenge fit to test the ingenuity of a mastermind. Whilst this is true for the majority, a small number will be a breeze to deal with. They already know what they want to be or do, they just need showing the road to it. They’re likely to find the choice of route a relatively easy decision to make. They’re inspired and they’re motivated.  They’re ‘switched on’ by their ambition, if you will.

Broadcasting at the majority has less impact on the individual, but does get at least some advice and guidance across to all, ready for the day an individual gets switched-on by an ambition.

The underlying challenge is therefore, how do we inspire more of that majority to become switched on, such that they subsequently continue to engage proactively with the careers services available to them?

Challenging times

There are broadly three categories of pupils / students:

  • The conveyor belters – These are the ones following what might be thought of as the more default choices. They’re considering or taking A levels because it’s the next logical step and they’ve chosen their subjects mainly to keep their options open. They might know vaguely what they want to do but have no realistic focus.
  • The rabbit-in-the-headlight students – These have absolutely no idea whatsoever about what job they’d like or career they might follow. They’re often paralysed by either the immense choices that lay open to them, or conversely by the complete lack of choice they perceive they have.
  • The dreamers – Loosely, these are the, “I want to be an astronaut,” brigade – the minority we considered above. They absolutely know what they want to be or do. Determination may have set in, possibly even obsession. They may go to university or they may have a job or apprenticeship in mind.

At this point, faced with limited funding and resources, the extent of the challenge is evident: within the three broad categories of student, every child has individual desires, their own consequent issues and therefore a unique set of needs, when it comes to careers support required. The Department for Education recognises that and mandates, or ‘advises’ as good practice, that schools:

  • “should help every pupil develop high aspirations and consider a broad and ambitious range of careers.”
  • “must secure independent careers guidance for young people.”
  • “build strong links with employers.”
  • “offer high quality work experience.”
  • “provide face to face advice and guidance.”
  • “ensure pupils are exposed to a diverse selection of professionals from varying occupations.”
  • “offer pupils the opportunity to develop entrepreneurial skills for self-employment.”
  • “shape overall strategy to the needs of individual pupils.”

Right. How many hours a week do you actually have available?

Five steps forward

In 2013, Ofsted not unsurprisingly reported that, “Only one in five schools were effective in ensuring that all students were receiving the level of information they needed,” so what can be done to drive more pupil and student engagement?

Add external resource

In the absence of sufficient funding, this has to come free. Careers advisors and trainers are unlikely to deliver services at zero cost, so this leaves:

  • Large organisations. Frequently operating at the national level, many allocate significant budgets for engaging with universities, schools and colleges. They’ll willingly attend careers fairs, visit to make presentations, provide copious amounts of careers literature and will often host visits in the work place. They’ll typically have an individual, if not a whole department, working full-time to liaise and co-ordinate. Their motivation is to draw in future potential employees.
  • Smaller, local, organisations. These often feel a social duty to support local schools and colleges. They will probably have an eye towards future recruitment, but the time may be unpredictable. As a minimum, they’ll usually provide people to give talks.
  • They clearly have the highest motivation to help, but the least budget and the least idea of what they can do to help, apart from obviously trying to guide their own offspring. Many will give time, if approached.
Link to interests

This is the absolute key to driving an individual’s engagement with careers services. Ask yourself: What do they actually care about? How do they spend their time, left to their own devices? What constitutes ‘fun’? What are cool things to do? What type of person are they? What lifestyle would they like for preference?

There are jobs that involve adventure. There are jobs that include huge amounts of time socialising. There are jobs that call for regularly being a hero. There are in fact jobs doing almost anything that a young person can imagine they’d quite like to do. If they can be shown the link, or the route, between where they are and where they’d like to be, they’ll feel motivated and engaged.

Steer organisations, and parents especially, to do this when they give talks.

Address groups with similar interests

Consider grouping pupils according to interests, rather than type. The various visiting companies and speakers can then be organised to ultimately ensure that each of the various groups will have been appealed to at some point, even if every pupil or student attends every session. Using ‘virtual groups’ helps to reduce both the cost and logistical challenge, so long as you document the work.

Application and interview training

Effort spent in this area pays real dividends, when measuring outcomes. Actually engaging students and helping them find a job and career direction can be tough enough, but winning a job or scheme-place is then essential for them, if all of your efforts are not to have been in vein.

  • Mock application ‘competitions’ and role-play style interviews both work particularly well as group exercises.
  • Instruction on researching an organisation before applying to them has more meaning when pupils and students are engaged.
  • Rehearsing for each and every interview is possible, with guidance on how to prepare and use friends or family members to assist.
  • Learn to hustle

It’s probably a little harsh to translate all of the above into saying that, as a careers teacher, your primary skills now need to include: professional begging; emotional blackmailing and pimping the kids out. There are softer, kinder words that could probably be found – perhaps: persuasion; appealing to duty and salesmanship? Certainly, your secondary skills required may have to include: event organisation; marketing and project management.

The simple fact remains that, if you’re targeting free resources, you’ll need to hustle hard. For example, large organisations will clearly have the largest budgets and the most resources to deploy, so fight for your bit of that. Smaller employers are often willing, but busy, so open up and maintain regular contact with individuals inside. Be insistent about the benefits for both of you. Parents just simply don’t know what to do, so you need to lead them forwards.

In conclusion, things probably shouldn’t have to be that way, but reality is what it is and there are ways you can get more bang for your careers buck, if you can learn to hustle. As a plus, think of the fact that you’ll be expanding your own skills, capabilities and contacts.

About the author

Jon Gregory is the founder and editor of Win-That-Job.com. He specialises in helping people to succeed in actually winning the job or scheme-place they want, once they’ve chosen a career direction. He provides free advice via Twitter from @letsfirewalk.