The key to effective careers preparation

Written by: Scott Waddington | Published:
Scott Waddington, Wales Commissioner for Employment and Skills

Most people now agree that a purely academic approach to career preparation is no longer the best or only option, argues Scott Waddington

Britain’s ageing demographic profile and the consistent growth in job creation points worryingly towards a potentially major gap between supply and demand in the jobs market over the next decade. Even if every student emerging from education during that period settled successfully into working life, there would still be a big shortfall.

There is more pressure than ever to ensure that all of our young people are properly prepared for the types of jobs emerging in the economy and that none fail to find suitable roles because of poor learning or training choices or misguided advice.

Teachers are influential role models with a pastoral duty to help shape the future of our population. By offering life and career guidance, they help our young people to make decisions that could affect their entire futures. Students look to teachers for assistance in deciphering what skills future employers will be looking for and how to develop and hone these skills.

More than just guesswork, the advice given should depend not only on the natural inclinations, passions and aptitude of the student, but should include a solid assessment of the existing labour market, with a focus on what careers are available and which specific skill-sets employers appreciate.

Both teachers and students need to be aware of the needs of local economies, especially in light of constantly evolving market trends and consumer needs. Greater communication between local businesses and schools is a key factor, as students can learn first-hand what the existing needs of employers are.

This approach to career guidance fulfils two important functions: personal and economical. At a personal level by preparing our students for careers that are currently available with the skills that are currently being sought by employers. At an economic level we help to fulfil a social responsibility of repairing the skills shortage that threatens economic growth.

Recent labour studies have shown that younger people in other developed countries are outperforming the UK in terms of their educational achievement and skill levels. However, this may not just be as a result of a lack of skilled persons, but rather a disparity between the skills required by employers and the skills being developed by students.

In the process of making decisions for future career paths, parents, teachers and students should consider the multiple options for training that can reduce this disparity, and in turn plug the skills gap.

Both vocational and academic options should be explored as viable options for advancement. Each pathway has its benefits. Most people would now agree that a purely academic approach to career preparation is no longer the best or only option, especially in light of the considerable financial investment it requires to attend university.

Additionally, while certain career pathways require a university degree, recent research has highlighted the fact that jobs with intermediate skill demands tend to have high shares of skills shortages, including technical and practical roles in manufacturing, construction, wholesale and retail, and hospitality.

Indeed, many professional bodies, such as those in the financial services sector, are making use of both academic and vocational learning to deliver their professional qualifications without the need for a degree.

The skills required for these types of careers are best – if not exclusively – developed through hands-on training within the job setting rather than in a university, such as with Apprenticeships and vocational training.

This approach to education and career development is a superb way of filling our nation’s skills gap, by having students working intimately along with employers to develop the skills that are currently required by the industry, eliminating any guesswork involved in assessing the labour market needs.

Statistics show that the percentage of employers offering Apprenticeships has been rising steadily since 2012. This trend creates opportunities for our young people that should be taken advantage of in order to create both personal and social means of development, and teachers are instrumental in this process.

Education exists to develop the individual and enable him or her to achieve their ultimate potential. Gainful employment is usually at the heart of the individual’s fulfilment in life, so the guidance teachers give should ensure that young people’s chances of securing quality and appropriate employment is maximised.

That means teachers need to keep themselves informed of what the jobs market is demanding and need to ensure that students are aware of the full spectrum of pathways – both vocational and academic – that they need to pursue in order to secure their place in the economy.

  • Scott Waddington is the Wales Commissioner for Employment and Skills.


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