No exam results, no work experience, no future plans? For students at one school, it’s no problem

Tips on how to engage students in careers advice

There’s no doubt that getting secondary students engaged in future career choices can be somewhat tricky – especially now. Young people today are facing predictions of huge post-pandemic unemployment and uncertainty over whether a largely online higher education degree is of value, not to mention the blow to motivation that cancelled exams has brought on.

Throw in the difficulty of exposing students to the world of work at a time when school visits from professionals are disrupted and work experience impossible, it’s no wonder kids are feeling lost.

This has been a particular challenge at my school in Birmingham. We’re in an area where many children’s careers ambitions are defined by the influencers they see on social media or their parents’ careers, many of whom did not attend further or higher education.

With external speakers and trips to universities and colleges cancelled, we decided a different approach was needed. Central to this has been the use of technology to personalise careers advice.

So you want to be a pop star?

Our first step was to explore our students’ interests. Careers advice is often focused on exposing children to different professions and pathways. But a visiting engineering speaker may only appeal to the 5% of students who had thought about that career anyway.

An approach more tailored to the individual will deliver a more engaged conversation with that young person.

The student may want to be a musician, like someone famous they admire. This aim may be viewed as too lofty or broad as an ambition, but we find it provides an excellent starting point to explore what would need to happen to allow the student to follow their dream.

We examine what courses are available, what salary they will earn and whether there are other jobs they could consider that would also help them explore their love of music. The lofty ambition then develops into a pathway to potential careers they may enjoy.

Get them where it works

Technology helps in this process. We started using a career search and discovery platform called Launch Your Career. Using the virtual reality (VR) headsets has been a game-changer.

Teenagers may be embarrassed to reveal they want to be a doctor or work in the theatre in front of their friends, but with the headsets on, they have told us that they feel able to explore all options without worrying what their peers will think.

“Teenagers may be embarrassed to reveal they want to be a doctor or work in the theatre in front of their friends, but with the headsets on, they have told us that they feel able to explore all options without worrying what their peers will think”

They see what the next steps will be in terms of their studies which helps them engage in the classroom, too. This is incredibly important when so many older children are thinking ‘what’s the point of school?’, thanks to the pandemic.

Focus on the positives

This brings me to the next key element of our careers programme: when talking about future careers with young people, we need to be sensitive to the challenges they have faced in the past year, but we also need to encourage them to thrive in spite of the difficulties

Much of the conversation around the prospects of the so-called ‘COVID generation’ focuses on the skills and learning young people have lost during the pandemic. We try to emphasise the skills they have gained during this time and how they can put them to use.

Take resilience and perseverance, or adaptability and flexibility. Being resourceful amidst the uncertainty of a pandemic means that young people have developed a number of highly useful soft skills that will stand them in good stead, whatever career path they take.

For many children, this period has also brought out strong independent learning skills, self-motivation and good organisation – even a renewed love of reading or stronger links to nature and the environment can sow the seeds of a successful career.

By tapping into the positives and understanding children’s personality, we can open the gateway to meaningful conversations about how they can get on the pathway to their dream job.


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