We often miss opportunity because it’s dressed in overalls and looks like work’ –  considering career options for young people in the digital age

Independent education charity Edge Foundation is dedicated to raising the status of technical and professional learning. As part of their activities, they also work in partnership with Inspiring the Future, to run Career Footsteps which enables school children to hear career stories from local people in their schools. We asked them for their take on how parents, carers and teachers can best help youngsters prepare for the new world of work. Here’s what they advise, along with some inspiring stories too…

As parents and carers, we instinctively draw on our own experience when advising youngsters, but when it comes to jobs and careers, the world of work is so different, and the pace of technological change so rapid, that much of our own experience can seem increasingly irrelevant.

Teenagers today might be considering jobs that didn’t exist when they were born; bloggers, cloud architects, app developers – even Zumba teachers! And so it continues; 65% of today’s school children will do jobs in the future that don’t exist now.

From the explosion of growth in sectors such as hospitality and care, to the development of 3D printing and artificial intelligence, the labour market is changing rapidly. The digital revolution is already impacting across all sectors primarily affecting manual, middle management and professional jobs. Consultants McKinsey & Co estimate two thirds of work in finance and insurance will become automated.

This new economy demands a complex mix of skills and abilities; qualified engineers to supply our future robotic workers and imaginative creatives to teach them how to interact. In less than a decade, virtual habitat designers will be creating entertainment, work and learning environments which millions of us will use.  Computer science might be a useful qualification for the job, but then so could cognitive psychology and behavioural science!

The rule book has been, if not entirely torn up, then subject to several rewrites and the need for quality careers information, advice and guidance has never been so important. Provision in schools can be patchy and students are definitely feeling it. In research commissioned by Edge last year, 57% of students in Further Education said they wanted more information from employers. Only one per cent said their decision to study was informed by the careers advice they’d received at school and another one per cent said it was because ‘my friends were doing the same.’

Perhaps not surprisingly, like others have identified, we know that large numbers of teenagers consider Mum, Dad or career as the most important source of information about the job market.

So as parents and carers, how can we be best informed and help our children navigate their future?

  1. Help your young person start to think about who they are and what’s out there for them. Finding out what provision the school is able to offer is a good place to start. You could suggest the school runs a Career Footsteps event to get them listening to employers and their career stories.

The events are completely free and can not only raise awareness of professions not thought of, but broaden understanding of the skills and experience needed to get there. You might even volunteer yourself! Talking to a class or assembly hall of young people is a good way to brush up on your public speaking skills.

Hearing other people’s careers stories is a great way to start career related conversations.

Careers Advice for Parents offers a free download of seven questions to get your child thinking and talking about their future choice.

  1. Don’t be prejudiced by conventional perceptions of the value of vocational and academic routes. Latest estimates put the average graduate debt at £50,000. Balance that against an average weekly wage of £480 for a Level 5 apprentice – the equivalent of the first year of a degree – who is also getting a qualification and benefitting from work experience.

Two-thirds of young people are planning on going to university, despite a third of them not knowing what they are going to study. However, the UK has one of the highest rates of graduate under-employment in the world so it’s worth considering all options.

Considering career options for young people in the digital age- Careers Advice For Parents
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Lucy Ackland ignored advice to go to university, followed her passion and left school at 16 to do an engineering apprenticeship. She achieved a first-class engineering honours degree in 2012. Now just 28, Lucy is Manager of the Special Projects Team at international engineering firm Renishaw, won the Women’s Engineering Society Prize in 2014 and last year bought a three-bed house in Bristol.

  1. Investigate different routes to the same place. Degree apprenticeships offer the opportunity to get a degree and work experience under your belt. The UK Employer Perspectives Survey in 2016 showed that employers rate relevant work experience as either critical (24%) or significant (41%) factors in recruitment, well above maths and English GCSEs and academic or vocational qualifications so it’s an option worth considering.

Ashley Freeman studied A-levels in maths and physics and a BTEC diploma in engineering. He planned to go to university to study engineering and then join the Royal Navy. Then he found out about the new Royal Navy advanced apprenticeships.

He said:

‘The plan was always to have a career in engineering and join the Navy so going to university was a means to an end. The careers talk made me think again. Instead of spending three years at university at huge cost, I could start at a higher level, have more managerial responsibility, use the engineering skills I already have and earn a salary.’

The days of jobs for life and linear career paths have long gone; the gig economy is here and teenagers now will expect to have several careers over a lifetime. There will be demand for advanced technical expertise in our digital age, but skills such as the ability to think, write and collaborate creatively, leadership and communication skills give young people the dexterity and flex to move between employers, sectors and professions in the future. We need to think flexibly and be open to all the options – there are many paths to success!