Careers advice has never been more important in a school as it is today, as students face many challenges from an ever-evolving business and economic environment, compounded by COVID, competition, too much choice and technological advances.
I am lucky enough to be Head of Careers at Wellingborough School and I have had to adapt as ‘Careers’ changes. It is about supporting young people in a changing, global world so they have the skills and confidence to make their own choices and time to change their minds. The Head of Sixth Form, Sarah Baxby, and I work hard to support the pupils individually through the maze. Careers has been embedded in the curriculum to ensure we meet the high standards set by the Gatsby benchmarks. We are proud of our delivery!
One-to-one interviews in Year 11 and Lower Sixth have proved vital as transferable skills are identified. By having interviews in each year there is room for developing ideas, responding to work experience and having time to formulate ideas. As a generation, the students of today will move across jobs and sectors, unlike their parents and grandparents. Students need to have self-awareness and tenacity to meet this challenge. Taster courses and Head Start courses are a great way to find out more.
Coming from a media background, I soon realised the need to get vast amounts of career information out to pupils and parents was paramount, so we introduced a Wellingborough School Careers Newsletter. This enabled pupils to take ownership and apply for courses, rather than information sitting on my desk.
In a changing world, apprenticeships have grown, suiting many learners. We launched an apprenticeship evening where businesses and apprentices came in to introduce themselves. Many successful alumni joined us to share their experiences. Although the uptake is relatively small compared to those choosing Higher Education, it is increasing and remains a valuable alternative and one without the university student debt.
The largest career events in the School’s history were the Careers Conventions in November 2017 and 2019 where over 130 employers, universities, gap year providers and armed forces came together for our young people. Both were exciting events and the pupils did not waste time in chatting to the guests and finding out more; a useful skill in itself.
Links with businesses have been instrumental, and no more so for our work experience provision for our Year 12 students. They have helped support over 1,000 pupils with work experience whilst I have been in post, enabling them to have invaluable insights into the real world. Whether it has been Westminster, Weetabix, Unilever, Travis Perkins, Nationwide or Pacesetter Sports, we have tailored the experience to the student and made them work for the placement with CVs and letters of introduction. Feedback from the businesses has been shared with the pupils, enabling them to learn from the experience. This is not an easy process for some pupils, but it will never be as hard to walk into a job or business again. Like it or not, they learnt something, and pupils have always returned beaming. As COVID took over and businesses have not been in the office, we promoted virtual work experience and virtual open days.
This year we had to think again, and Year 11 assembled for ‘Wellingborough School – The Apprentice!’ The task was to come up with a board game idea and design by 3pm. With cardboard boxes and boards they came up with ideas that ranged from ‘Dinners Up’ to ‘Helicopters and Hippos’. To make it more realistic, the pupils shared their idea with Year 6 pupils who were brutally honest and very enthusiastic when they liked an idea. Social media adverts were created and reviews from famous celebrities were cheekily made up. The fun came at 3pm when Nick Hewer, a judge from the TV show, The Apprentice, came in to judge the games with Andrew Brown, Senior Brand Manager from Hasbro Games Ltd. Yes, companies were hired and fired, but all left smiling.
Not being able to go on work experience meant we had to think more creatively about how we helped students prepare for their next steps, and so, for the Lower Sixth, to help inspire and inform them, we provided them with a series of careers talks delivered by former pupils who had once sat in their chairs and were now in fascinating employment. There was everything from social media to real estate and special needs dentistry, but the key was to hear how they had hit hurdles and turned left or right, used their transferable skills to move jobs, or shown tenacity.
Tenacity is crucial when thinking about careers and ultimately, employment. People can go through psychometric testing and interview after interview to not even hear if they have or haven’t got the job. Given that you often only apply to a job if you really want it, this is a hard process. So, the young of today need tenacity to cope with rejection, tenacity to keep going and they will get there in the end. It is a real pleasure to work with young people, a privilege that should not be taken for granted.
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