One of the biggest issues in today’s world is the constant requirement for future planning of your career. Ultimately, being able to support yourself and afford life’s luxuries, or even just life’s necessities, requires a considerable about of money; money which can only be obtained through the world of work.
When I think about my role as Head of Careers, I often wonder how it was that I managed when I was at school. Careers advice in the 1990’s consisted of a small collection of mediocre University prospectuses and a compulsory work experience period in year 10. There were no in-depth interviews with my parents and careers advisor, or large agencies that could offer school students advice. At least, if these did exist, as a school girl, I was never made aware of any. My one resounding memory of ‘Careers advice’ at school was filling out an online survey that was supposed to be able to tell me the career that would be perfect for me. Questions such as ‘Do you like working with children?’ were the main focus of this process. Ironically, I vividly remember answering NO to that particular question! Other questions about your preference for working inside or outside led to results of ‘Park Warden’ or in one particularly unlucky case, ‘Grave Digger!’, neither of which were particularly inspiring aspirations to be presented with when you are fifteen years old. The only useful Careers education that I received when I was at school was the work experience placement and although Careers education is very different now, and certainly very different at NHS, work experience is still one of the most useful resources in school.
The sole purpose of the work experience that I was sent on was probably a way of hitting a government target and getting an entire year group out of school on mass during an ordinarily busy time of year for exam groups, thus freeing up time for a group of over worked and under pressure staff in a large state comprehensive. For me, that meant two weeks at the local undertakers (cue the gasps of horror and sympathetic smiles of pity). Actually I chose that work experience and can honestly say that it was one of the most fascinating two weeks that I ever had.
The skills I learnt during those two weeks were absolutely invaluable. Skills like talking to members of the public who were dealing with the distress of bereavement, answering the phones and dealing with large sums of money have all been useful in various ways since. Engaging with new and sometimes rather daunting tasks taught me independence and resilience and although coffin making and dressing bodies is not something I have done since, the experience overall gave me something really quite valuable. The point is that not all work experience is going to inform the rest of your future, neither does it need to. Its purpose is to develop transferable skills and show individuals that no matter what career you choose, certain attributes are useful no matter what you are doing.
At Northampton High School we are exceptionally lucky to be able to offer our girls work experience that will give them transferable skills but that will also have the potential to lead to a genuine career in the future. Through our membership of the Girls Day School Trust (GDST) we are able to present our students with opportunities that other schools simply do not have access to. This term alone, we have seen six of our 6-1 students make successful applications to Nomura for a day of careers guidance and experience in London. Several of those girls were then chosen to attend an extended three day course as a result of particularly strong applications and we very much look forward to seeing how they get on later in the term. Other companies such as PwC, voted Britain’s top employer for the last twelve years, also work in close partnership with the GDST, offering places specifically for girls within the GDST.
But it isn’t just about going to a big city company for a day and realising that this is your dream job. Very often the people that the students meet through these days are people that enable them to take part in more refined work experience later on, or even who will allow them paid placements during the summer holidays, when they are at university or as graduates when they complete higher education. This is the real value of work experience through the GDST, real people working for real companies offering real careers opportunities for our girls.
The same applies to students lower down the school. In the summer term, the L5’s will take part in a whole day of careers and guidance, as part of our Inspiring Futures programme, run by Sykes and Co, a Northamptonshire Recruitment agency. As part of the day, the girls will also have an opportunity to take part in a Speed Networking session. This is rather similar to speed dating, without the unavoidable awkward silences and inevitable disappointment at the end! The girls will have the opportunity to meet a range of employers from a wide variety of backgrounds, some of which offer work experience to interested individuals and even in some cases, apprenticeships for when the girls leave school at the end of their A Levels.
The NHS Inspiring Futures programme has also been focusing on ‘making the right choices’ over the last few weeks. At the end of January, the U5’s and 6-1’s were given an introduction to the programme Unifrog. John Hillis, from Unifrog, came into school to train the students in how to use the software to help them make informed choices about university. We anticipate that this will be particularly useful for the 6-1 students who will soon embark on the UCAS journey, but also for our U5’s who are now making important decisions about A Level subjects. Most girls will already have made their choices but for those who have specific career goals already, it is a great chance to make sure that the A Levels they have chosen are appropriate for the courses that they may wish to apply for at university. Working backwards from an end goal point can sometimes be the best way of making earlier decisions. For those girls who, like me at their age, are still unsure of what path they will choose, this is a fantastic platform for exploring the possibilities, and with over 30,000 different courses on offer, narrowing that down to only 5 can be a tricky and time consuming undertaking.
At NHS we also have excellent connections through the GDST Alumnae Network. This network boasts an incredible ‘eighty thousand plus’ members and is the largest single sex alumnae network in Europe. Old girls from this school and others in the GDST are always coming back into school or making contact through events in London to offer expertise and careers advice to our current cohort. Many of our students have received work experience placements and in some cases jobs through this network.
This term the 6th form has also been involved with a LinkedIn workshop. Many of you will be familiar with this particular network and may well have used it or be using it on a professional basis quite regularly. LinkedIn is a fantastic tool for anyone to use, regardless of which leg of their career they are currently in. For school students, it is a great way of establishing connections with friends who might one day put them in touch with their future boss, or with people that they meet through work experience, school events or family connections who may well do the same thing. Online profiling is becoming increasingly common and ensuring that our girls are giving out the right sort of information about themselves is really important for their future. It is far better for them to volunteer information about themselves through LinkedIn, than for potential employers to sift through the dregs of their Friday night ‘Selfies’ on other forms of social media. This is a theme that has run throughout the year in many of the PSHCE sessions run by Ms Margareto in the lower year groups. It has also been a theme for one of the student senior leadership team assemblies and has been talked about at skills days by Karen Kimura, who regularly comes into school from the GDST to see our students. Social media is a wonderful and powerful tool but we must wield it safely and appropriately for it to be beneficial to us.
In the UK, the average job advertisement receives over thirty applications. Having insider information or knowing someone within the company can make all the difference. Work experience places with large companies, particularly in London, can have equally high numbers of prospective applicants. In so many cases the successful candidate will have been benefitted, not by what they know, but by who they know.
Rebecca Kneen – Deputy Director of 6th form and Head of Careers