Updated: Aug 17
In my quora space the following question was asked regarding career pathways for students in the UK system. This is an area I feel strongly about. A lack of serious career and work guidance is a huge issue in the UK. Most GCSE students will tend to put this on a back-burner which is understandable given their schedules. However this matter requires at least as much attention as GCSEs.
Given the early specialisation in the British education system, how do students know what to do for life and stick to their choice? Would they regret their earlier choice and what can they do to remedy this?
This is a huge problem in the UK. People specialise here at 16, which means you have to make your life decisions at 15/16. This is clearly absurd, but it’s the system we have.
There was a survey done a few years ago asking British workers whether they felt they were in the right career. Two-thirds responded that they felt they had made a mistake in their career choice. The fact is that our system forces people to specialise far too young - long before they’re able to get a feel for the world of work and often before they understand their own core-competencies. Furthermore, the academic pressures are such that it’s difficult for students during their GCSEs or A-levels to even find the time to gain enough work experience to make realistic decisions about their futures.
While nobody is ever guaranteed a fascinating career, it’s my view that the UK system actually sets people up for difficulties by having people specialise too young and without the proper process of consultation. The UK system is literally the only one that I know of that does this - it's very odd given that the academic education here is pretty solid. The rest of Europe does the Bac in which students study broadly until eighteen years old. In the US people don’t choose their major until around 20 years old.
Teaching an Irish student this year lead me to discover their system have an excellent solution to this issue - students sit the equivalent of GCSEs at 15, then spend the next year doing work experience and a lot of careers consulting before going on to begin their equivalent of A-levels. This is a much smarter system to be honest. There is a proper, extensive process of consultation and experimentation for students before they specialise.
The pathway students take is so important nowadays as there are so many graduates in the market and the professional job pool is so competitive. It's unlikely that a student will find themselves going on to a suitable career without planning, internships, professional awareness and the correct degree subject. It’s sad to be honest - the system simply doesn’t do anywhere near enough future modelling with students - it's essentially left to parents and students to figure out alone.
I do pathways consultations with students from time to time and it’s one of the most valuable services I offer - arguably as influential as a long-term course of private tuition. Parents typically don’t have a great understanding of the current graduate employment market as they're at a different point in their lives, so I’m able to offer valuable guidance to students. We look closely at trends in work opportunities, the direction and prospects of different industries and even incorporate the direction that cities are going in over the coming years. The students I have taken through this process have found it invaluable - most of them ended up re-considering their degree choices in favour of a more targetted, long-term approach. Unfortunately many students are simply advised to 'get a degree' without a very clearly thought out long-term life-plan. I believe that a short consulting process will have saved many of them from disappointment and pain in the future.
The reality is that for today’s students, there is a lot riding on the decisions they make at 15/16. Gone are the days when you could just go and do a degree and you’d expect to have a pathway to a middle class lifestyle. Nowadays people need to make very smart choices or they may end up disappointed down the road.