Without the right careers advice and support throughout their teens, by the time young people are ready to start looking for a job, they struggle. A combination of not knowing what they’d like to do and pressure at all levels of education means that the problems continue to spiral out of control, even as they get older.
Figures from the Higher Education Statistics Agency show that in 2015/16, the percentage of university graduates in unemployment three to five years after graduation was 5%, a small but significant amount. While 73.6% of 2012/2013 graduates were in work, that was from a baseline of 107,340 graduates. That means that 5,367 young graduates weren’t in work three to five years after graduating. If all of those young people were in the room together, that would be an incredibly busy room.
The traditional view is that going to university is one of the best, maybe even the best way to get a job. But for as many young people that are in employment three to five years after graduating, there are just as many young people who struggle. They can struggle for many reasons, including being overqualified or not having enough work experience. What could that say about just how helpful having a degree actually is when it comes to getting a job?
Sadly, a big part of the problem that young people face is pressure; pressure that comes from many sides.
The pressures of how young people should progress in their lives and the additional pressure to know what they want to do at every single stage of their lives starts at thirteen or fourteen, when choosing what GCSEs to take. Besides Maths, English and the Sciences, which are the nationally compulsory GCSEs, other compulsory GCSEs and the number of classes a pupil can take vary by school. Pupils are expected to base their choices on what they want to do in the future and what their teachers and parents might want them to do. If they don’t know what they want to do, it just leads to a huge amount of confusion as well as pressure.
When I chose my GCSEs, I struggled to choose them. I knew I had to do Maths, English and Science, but apart from that, I had absolutely no idea whatsoever. People talked about choosing based on what you wanted to do when you grew up, but I had no idea about that either! How on earth was I supposed to choose what I wanted to study for the next two years, with exams at the end of them? In the end, I chose subjects that I thought I could do well in – which I did – but in hindsight, I wish that I had had better advice and that I had chosen more subjects that I was both interested in and that could have helped me in the future.
Schooling is only compulsory until the age of sixteen. This means that from the summer after they’ve turned sixteen to eighteen, young people can find a pathway into work that suits them, as long as it includes education. Possible pathways include apprenticeships and vocational qualifications like an NVQ, as well as the option of getting A-Levels at sixth form or college. Yet again, there is pressure for young people to go for qualifications, perhaps to look good on the school’s records of how many A*s and As their pupils achieved.
Challenge number two: choosing what I wanted to do after school. I thought about doing A-Levels, but I chose not to because of my fear of exams – a major issue, even now – and the silly fact that I didn’t want to spend a huge chunk of time studying Shakespeare in English Literature. In the end, I chose to go to a different college and study a BTEC in Media Studies. On a whole, I enjoyed it, but I struggled with a lot of it and I regret that I did it. I also regret that neither me or my mum thought about looking for other things that I could do.
The battle between traditional qualifications and vocational qualifications continues when many young people have to choose what to do after college. As mentioned above, the expectation is that a young person will apply to go to university, without looking at the other options they could take, such as an apprenticeship or going straight into the world of work.
My struggles continued as, in my second year of college, my tutor started talking about after we had finished. The only thing we were told about university. Much like when I was trying to decide what to do after school, I regret that I didn’t look for other avenues at the time. In the end, I decided to apply for Creative Writing and Journalism.
While I enjoyed some of what I studied at university, there was a lot that I didn’t enjoy. To make matters worse, because of the degree that I had, it suddenly became incredibly difficult to get a job – a lot harder than I thought it was going to be. While my disabilities may have contributed to that, I don’t think my choice of degree helped very much.
By the time a young person is ready to start looking for a job and enter the world of work, there are several things that could happen. They could find a job they love very quickly. They could struggle to find a job. They could decide to continue their education even further.
To add further interest to this issue, in October 2016, a report was written about the connection between what qualifications Talent Match London participants gained and whether they gained employment. While only 32% of those with GCSEs only, from a baseline of 235 participants, gained employment, its important to note that 78% of participants with AS/A2 qualifications felt that they had enough knowledge and skills to be job ready, compared to 76% of those with degrees. While it is only a difference of 2%, this is significant because it shows that just because you have a degree doesn’t mean you are necessarily going to be work ready.
So where is it all going wrong? One idea is that careers advice needs to be improved and that pressure needs to be lifted. Government policy is that children should leave school prepared for modern Britain. However, in 2013, Ofstead reported that “only one in five schools were effective in ensuring that all students were receiving the level of information they needed.” This is perhaps why a lot of young people are confused and pressurized when it comes to choosing GCSEs and what to do after school, let alone what job they want. Even teachers don’t think that careers advice is very good, with nearly half of teachers saying that it is adequate or poor in 2015 when asked for a survey from The Guardian.
It is imperative that the connection between education and employment is improved, or else the problems surrounding young people in the world of work will never improve. The government could change the guidelines around careers advice more often in order to fit in with the ever changing world around them. Teachers, tutors and lecturers could decrease the amount of pressure on young people and tell them more about other avenues into work. Employers could encourage young people to find other ways into the industries that they want to work in. Just a few changes could make a huge difference.