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Careers advice has come a long way

Lowri ap Robert shares her experiences of careers advice and how it has changed beyond all recognition since her school days

According to social commentators and Blur, modern life is rubbish. And yes, there is an awful lot about life in 2017 which is not so great. I won’t even begin to reel off what’s wrong with today’s world but everyone has a lengthy list they could insert here.  

However, there is one thing which is undeniably and indisputably better than it was back in the days of apple-scrumping and listening to the wireless with the family: careers advice.

In my work at Business in the Community Cymru I’ve had the pleasure – and it is a pleasure – of attending Skills Cymru in Cardiff in both 2016 and 2017. And it is uplifting. It is inspiring. It made me feel so positive – clichéd but true – about the youth of today and Wales’ future.

So what is Skills Cymru?

It’s the biggest careers, jobs and skills showcase in Wales and its events take place in Llandudno and Cardiff every year. These events are genuinely super-interactive – if you’re interested in the Armed Forces, come and see the inner workings of a tank; if you fancy being a builder, come and operate a spirit level – and really do cover all bases. Interested in an apprenticeship? University or college?  Getting trained for a specific purpose? Not a clue but would appreciate some guidance? You can get help with everything as Skills Cymru. Absolutely everything.

It’s designed to give guidance to Years 10, 11, 12 and 13, their parents and their teachers. I have to confess that it made me – who no longer falls into any of the above categories – want to learn new skills and explore different jobs.

On BITC Cymru’s stand this year we offered mini-workshops on CVs and interview skills for students and showed teachers how to get on board the LifeSkills project. We spoke to 340 students, 190 teachers and 45 parents and guardians. For me and the team, it was two days very well spent.

At the Cardiff event in 2017, there were over 100 exhibitors – employers, colleges, universities and advisors – in full flow at the event. Such was the buzz and enthusiasm, and such was the keenness of the students, that I honestly don’t think I saw anyone sitting silently over the whole two-day period. Eye-rolling diffident youth of today thinking this was all Kevin and Perry-style boring? Not if the BITC Cymru stand was anything to go by. I left there hoarse and happy and super-impressed by the breadth of the enthusiasm and positivity I met with (and not just from my colleagues).

Back in the day …

Back in the late 70s was all Fifth Form, Lower Sixth and Upper Sixth and, yes, O levels. But even at my school, which was admittedly probably better than most, the concept of careers advice was prehistoric - if it even existed at all.

I honestly think that those who left school aged 16 were given no advice whatsoever and were just expected to find themselves some manual or retail role or, if relatively privileged, to join the family business. Very little changed for those of us who scraped into the Sixth Form.

I remember sitting in exam-like formation in relative silence with my fellow students and completing a questionnaire. It asked us about our A-level subjects (fairly standard) and hobbies (that makes sense). It also – outrageously, in retrospect - asked what our father’s profession was which suggested that some kind of pre-determined fate lay ahead for each and every one of us.

I don’t think we thought in career terms. The question of ‘What would you like to be?’ was absolute catnip for most – trapeze artist, lead singer of Black Sabbath and lumberjack were among the answers put forward. I think I was bold enough to put down some pretty radical suggestions for the time – journalist (pretty much the only profession I’d ever heard of beyond teacher, doctor and solicitor) or advertising copywriter (because I’d heard about Fay Weldon coining the slogan ‘Go to work on an egg’).

The completed questionnaires were sent off to some mysterious centre, analysed, and some fortnight later we all received a two-sentence recommendation. We compared notes, of course. It was recommended to some 70% of us, and almost all the girls (including this girl who had specified, not unreasonably, what she might want to be) that we become teachers, an English teacher in my case. A handful of super-clever science boys were given ‘doctor’ and the three boys whose fathers farmed were offered the suggestion of ‘farmer’. Even in those days before we had become fully-fledged cynics, we laughed. Especially at the thoroughly imaginative ‘farmer’ suggestions.

Listen and listen good – there is some fantastic careers advice out there

As well as highlighting a huge range of opportunities for young people, Skills Cymru is a great day out and has the capability of making a very real difference to young people’s future choices. There are hundreds, nay, thousands of possible courses that people’s lives might take. But young people need to know what the options are, what suits them best and what trajectory they need to follow. It’s a cliché but there really IS something for everybody. But:

  • People need to know what’s out there.
  • They need to be able to make informed choices.
  • They need to be given suggestions as to what they might love, or what they might excel at.

And Skills Cymru, along with the work that Careers Wales does with schools, other careers fairs, apprenticeship schemes, training schemes and Business Class collaborations, promotes and explores that plethora of choices. Hurrah for that.

Long may it continue that Wales produce excellent teachers, doctors and, naturally, farmers. But the choice of career really is unlimited. And it can’t be determined by a questionnaire alone.