The journey to work

Giving a talk on jobs and careers to pupils or students? Whether you’re a major employer, a local company or ‘just’ a parent, be in no doubt that you have a significant opportunity to influence their futures. Many teenagers, if not most, will be struggling to even imagine a direction for their working lives, let alone the steps to a specific career.

With no direction in mind, there can be no goal. In the mind of a young person, having no goal yet means there is no journey worth making. Consequently, milestones that we consider essential – skills, experience, qualifications and the routes to them – can be regarded by them as literally pointless to discuss. What we read as disinterest is often rooted in uncertainty, anxiety and fear.

For their journey to happen, they’ll need to find both a destination and the motivation to reach it. That’s where you come in. Your talk can provide insights into some possible destinations, giving them a direction. You can provide the motivation for that journey, fuelling their transition into the world of work. Even better, you can help them to think in terms of ‘a career’, thereby inspiring them to make their journey into a potentially life-long thrill-ride. It’s no exaggeration to say that you can literally be a life-saver, in some cases.

In that light, your talk might seem like a big ask, but don’t feel the pressure, see the opportunity instead. You’re not looking to create Richard Bransons or Mother Teresas, you’re aiming to shine a light into that mysterious world of ‘work’ and hopefully provoke some decision-making.

It’s storytime

As always, the best way to get engagement is to capture interest and the key to that is story-telling. If you look at what young people do voluntarily – watching programmes, reading, gaming, social media and sports – the underlying driver is the desire to follow or be part of a ‘story’, effectively a journey.

To be interesting, you don’t have to be massively charismatic with your own TV show or YouTube channel, you just have to show and tell a few stories. Luckily, the world of work throws up a huge number of them, even in the very smallest of organisations.

There are stories about you, the job you do, your colleagues, their jobs, how any of you got there, what battles you’ve had along the way and where any of you might be heading.

There are stories about the purpose of your organisation, where it came from, where it’s going to, the impact it’s made in the world, the challenges it faces and the opportunities there may be in the future.

There are stories about the sector that the organisation exists inside, where it came from originally, how it fits into the bigger picture and whether it’s heading for the sun or into a black hole.

The best stories are those with relevance to the listener, so your challenge is to link your world of work to their experiences of life.

Talk about people

When you talk about jobs, young people often have preconceptions. They might imagine that, say, a machinery manufacturing business employs a whole bunch of filthy boiler-suited assembly workers who wear hard hats, wield spanners and grunt about widgets. It’s not an enticing picture.

It can come as a huge surprise to find out that the business also employs sales people, for example, who dress smartly, drive flash cars and travel the country, or perhaps even the world, depending upon the business. The idea that not all jobs are stuck in buildings, and some might even be sexy, grabs attention.

Receptionists, artists, engineers, security staff, drivers, designers, cleaners, painters, lawyers, store-keepers, machine operators, chefs, IT engineers, office staff, accountants, mechanics and trainers are possibly all found inside the business. You can open up the idea that working in ‘engineering’ or ‘manufacturing’ or virtually any business can be whatever a young person wants it to be.

Make things personal

Realising the impact the business makes in the world can also come as a surprise. What does the equipment they make actually do? If it’s for, say, liquid dispensing (boring!), it might be used to fill the bottles, cans and cartons that they buy from supermarket shelves, probably using a false ID, when they’re on their way to a party (much more interesting!). Equally, it might be used to load highly accurate quantities of horrifically toxic substances into bags and vials used to administer chemo-therapy, in the hope of curing their nan of cancer. And so on.

Whatever your company does and delivers, if you try to link that activity to the lives of the people you’re speaking to, you’ll generate stronger interest and greater engagement.

Sell the excitement

The story of how your company’s sales manager won the company’s biggest order from Mexico (potentially a ‘yawn’ moment), despite being mugged at gun point in the taxi from the airport, contracting a near fatal dose of campylobacter from the food at the hotel and having to negotiate the final terms of the deal from his hospital bed whilst lashed to a drip can prove strangely attractive and hugely inspiring to gung-ho teenagers intent on finding a spark of adventure in the world.

The chances are that many of the roles and people inside the business will have a story that’s worth re-telling attached to them, if you dig.

Although the example above looks at engineering and manufacturing, virtually any reasonable sized organisation, business or industry employs people in a wide variety of roles.

Some quick tips

  • Use surprise. It’s a great tool for grabbing attention with any story.
  • Keep things grounded. Not every day at work is a wild ride, sadly. The idea of turning up regularly, on time, and not being able to use a phone every five minutes can be an alien concept.
  • Don’t raise false expectations. To get to the fun parts of a job, there may be a lot of training, a determined slog and some tears along the way. For example, we know that joining the police isn’t going to see a new recruit involved in undercover work and daily drug-bust shoot-em-ups from the outset, but young people may not.
  • Focus on ‘what next’. If someone at your talk feels inspired, what are the routes into the profession and what are the next steps they should consider taking? Who can they talk to? How do they contact you?
  • Be inclusive. The roles and industry you talk about will not interest everyone. However, gaining work experience on a part-time, project, holiday, intern or voluntary basis can provide great transferable and employability skills.

Sell the ‘sizzle’

In summary, the work destination chosen by a young person can happily be as unrealistic as they can conjure up and you can imagine, SO LONG AS there’s actually a viable route to it and that person can feel inspired to find the motivation to make that journey.

Becoming Prime Minister, the CEO of a public company or a Dragon’s Den entrepreneur is only an unrealistic ambition if they expect to do it tomorrow. Whilst most people’s ambitions are more practical, show them that anything is possible, so long as they want to do it and are prepared to walk that road.

The most important thing for people to do is to get on the road and start walking in a direction, even if the final destination later changes.

About the author

Jon Gregory is the founder and editor of 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.