The Value Of Career Guidance

I was out and about with another Careers Adviser recently, sitting in on some of her Year 11 interviews to see how they were going, as part of our quality assurance process.

The first client of the day was a smart young girl, who sat down confidently and greeted us both.  She was well spoken, and immediately said that she wanted to be a dentist, and she would be doing A-Levels in Biology, Chemistry, Maths and Physics in the school sixth form.

Although she was quite happy to see the adviser, it was clear that she didn’t really think she needed a careers interview.  However, she agreed to the adviser’s suggestion that we “check out her plans, just to make sure she hasn’t missed anything”. She agreed, although she said really wanted to stay focused on dentistry and not be distracted.

The adviser did indeed check out her plans, and they seemed pretty watertight.  She was expecting mainly A and A* grades.  She had done work experience in a dentist’s surgery and loved it.  This was her own idea – “the first idea I’ve had that’s been really mine” – but her parents were supportive.  She had been to a careers fair and picked up some careers information which she had read carefully.  She liked the idea of running her own practice, working with her hands, solving problems and of helping to make the world a better place.  She loved Maths and Physics but was equally good at Biology and Chemistry and knew these subjects were the most important.  She had even looked at the UCAS website and identified some universities she was interested in.

So far, so good.  This is what most people expect a Careers Adviser to check out, and many teachers and non-professionals, if supplied with the right information and enough time, could also check these things out.  Our adviser, however, knew from the research that many young people who are very focused at this age go on to be unhappy with their career choice, but feel it is too late to get off the treadmill and end up feeling stuck in the wrong career.  Over half of university graduates feel they did the wrong degree.

The Adviser congratulated her on her thorough research and agreed that she was a strong candidate for dentistry.  She gave a few figures about the level of competition, and offered to discuss a few ideas that could be a “back-up plan”.  Optometry and pharmacy were suggested as offering the same opportunity to run a practice and use science to help people.  The client was happy to consider these ideas and could see the importance of the back-up plan.

The adviser then went on to query whether she had ever thought of any jobs related to Maths, her favourite subject.  The client said only accountancy, which sounded boring: too repetitive, just making figures add up.

The adviser asked her to picture an engineer in her head.  What did she see?  A man in overalls, working with machines, she replied.  The adviser chatted about some other examples of engineering – using nanotechnology to design face creams, working on coastal defences in areas threatened by climate change and designing mobile phones.  The client pricked up her ears – “wow, that sounds really interesting.  I never would have thought of that.  Maybe I need to look into those ideas a bit more.  I mean, dentistry does sound good, but I guess I haven’t found out enough about the other things I could do.”

They went on to discuss websites that she could use to do further research into these new career ideas.  She seemed really keen, asking lots of questions, and saying at the end that she would start her research tonight.

This client was lucky to live in Wales, and be seen by a Careers Adviser, as every pupil in her school was.  But the practice is giving every year 11 pupil a careers interview with a professional adviser is being phased out.  Only those “most in need” will get career guidance.  This client, who, on the face of it, was academic, well focused and planning to stay in her own school sixth form, would not be a high priority.  The situation in England is even worse, with many schools having no access to a Careers Adviser.  Able Year 11 pupils are supposed to make do with using websites.

Websites are very useful – they contain occupational information, information about courses and entry requirements, helpful advice about jobsearch, applying to university and a  range of other issues relevant to young people.  But without this careers interview, today’s client would never have been motivated to research engineering careers on the website.  Providing websites isn’t enough, if the young people don’t see the point of using them and don’t know what to research.


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