Saturday, 23 March 2013

"What do you want to do when you grow up?" is the wrong question.

“What do you want to be when you grow up?”; it’s the question that we’re asked from about as early as we can conceive of what growing up and having some sort of job means. And for many of us, the question keeps getting asked, again and again, maybe in slightly more sophisticated ways that involve paths into industries or quizzes that probably tell us nothing we didn’t already know, but it’s essentially the same question. Of course, careers education varies greatly from school to school, but for too many students the approach to careers education is still far too linear and far too simplistic.

Careers education is still too often based upon an increasingly outdated view of education, of jobs and of careers. It's based on the idea that you go through education, get a job and stick with that job. And therefore your decisions in education are to be made with this career goal in mind. But increasingly, people aren’t staying in one career or even one industry for most of their lives. People are increasingly likely to do one job for a while, and then move into a whole other sector. And so people don’t so much need to know a lot about one field, but instead be well equipped to take on a wide variety of roles. And so our careers education needs to shift away from the idea of a single career path, and towards teaching students to be flexible and to be creative in their approach to the job market and equipped them with the broad range of skills they will need for this.

Work experience should be compulsory for all secondary school children; even doing just a week of good work experience can be really beneficial. But schools should be taking this a step further by encouraging and facilitating students to do volunteering, or run clubs, or just get part time jobs. Working in retail in Saturdays will teach you a tonne of skills that will be useful when you need to get a full time job. University is a great chance for those who go to do things like volunteer, get involved in societies or work part time but, especially for those who don’t go to university, schools should be ensuring their pupils have the same kind of experiences and opportunities.

And this should be part of a shift in focus from choosing your career path to taking the opportunities available to you, making good decisions in the present for your development, building skills and exploring the big old mess that is the world of work. We should be ncouraging students to make decisions in the present that will be valuable experiences, rather than focusing on charting a course for the future; instead of asking “what do you want to do when you grow up”, we should be asking what students want to do, want to experience and what they want to get involved with now.

Additionally, careers education can still be far too focused on “this is what a job will involve if you get it”. Schools should be better at equipping pupils with tools to get into those jobs in the first place, from CV writing to approaching employers to creating a good online presence (and actually how to create a visible and strong presence; not just “keep your facebook as private as possible and make yourself entirely invisible because sometimes you’re noticeably drunk”).

Careers education should be a central part of secondary school, especially post-14, not just something on the side. It should be comprehensive and it should be about what students can do to grow and develop right now, not just what they might want to do one day. Not only is this view increasingly out of sync with people’s career paths, it puts an unnecessary amount of pressure on young people to make the “right” choices now; because if it’s leading you down a path that will end at a job for life…that’s terrifying! Easing that pressure by focusing on doing a lot of things and building a broad skills base, and emphasising that jobs need not be for life would not just improve careers education but would ease this pressure on students, making the transition from education to work that little bit easier and maybe even make the whole thing a bit more fun!

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