A career is for life…

Nigel Lashbrook (Oakham School)

Too often we hear people say they wish they’d had better careers advice – that they’ve found their perfect career either later or, sadly, too late in life.

Whilst much debate is given to the skills and attributes that we, as educators, should encourage and develop in pupils (grit, character and mindfulness), much less is said about the importance of good careers advice. Surely, one of our key roles is to help pupils to know what doors, or careers, are open to them in the world that awaits them, to help them really understand and decide exactly which careers interest them, or suit their skills and aptitudes.

Indeed, surely it is our role to help them to make active and positive decisions on which career path to take?

Unfortunately, in too many schools, “Careers” has been reduced to a tick-box exercise. In some, it has been marginalised due to timetable constraints or a myopic focus on league table positions. In others it has been outsourced in order to reduce costs, to providers who visit schools to impart their guidance to students they’ve never met before. For some schools, careers advice has been reduced to using aptitude questionnaires as career “solutions”, rather than being a great starting point for a series of detailed one-to-one discussions.

Initiatives such as “Careers Week” are excellent, with an absolutely vital purpose of encouraging students to engage with Careers. However, does it not also epitomise how we have come to view Careers as something that can be “done” in a distinct period of time?

There needs to be a shift in the way that Careers is perceived, a move from administering careers advice to developing career skills. It isn’t just a functional set of decisions or steps that schools need to help their students make – which subjects to choose, which university or college to select,
which course or apprenticeship is best. Instead, we should treat Careers as a series of broader life skills – including awareness and interest in the world (and where pupils see themselves fitting), understanding of self (and the ability to match this to career options) and openness to change (which is particularly vital given the evolving job market, the impact of artificial intelligence on future job roles and the shift from a “job for life” to contract work and multiple career moves).

This is an edited version of an article in issue 6 of HMC Insight Magazine. Click here to view the full article.