The school careers department has a crucial role in pupil employability.
When I was at school the school careers department was the small dimly lit room at the end of an otherwise forgotten corridor. Inside there was a coffee table, though there was no coffee. There were a few low armchairs, the ones with the wooden arms that your elbows slip off. And from these chairs the visitor enjoyed an unprecedented view of the shelves of blue plastic leaflet holders. The room had a certain allure. Maybe it was the armchairs, for every other classroom had desk chairs. Maybe it was because only sixth formers could use the room. Perhaps it was because the careers assistant used to call us by our Christian names, rather than our surnames. Oh yes, here was status at last.
Inside the blue plastic leaflet holders were fliers and leaflets about various careers and the companies offering them. Most of them were for the Army or for accountancy firms long since subsumed into a global corporate blob. There was also a shelf with the label “discover your future career today”. It was, in effect, a series of questionnaires that balanced my A Level choices and likes/dislikes to predict my destiny. My future was hotel management or social care. I still haven’t made it in either.
The careers facility was pretty similar at university. Which goes to show that it wasn’t that long ago when a career was something we didn’t worry about until we had to. And that was in the final week of the final term of the final year.
The school careers department is more relevant today
It is different now, much different. There are many more graduates today, all equally (un)qualified for the work place. Competition for a job is so much tougher, and yet employers still bemoan the lack of relevant qualifications. That’s why university students are spending so much time on work experience or internships to gain that relevant experience in addition to their academic pursuits.
Today the school careers department will have more careers and company guides in the blue plastic boxes. And the career profiling may have gone online. And the facility may be part of a Learning Resource Centre within a Sixth Form Centre. But essentially careers guidance in the majority of schools is still where it was in my day.
Career information and workplace experience
A step up from careers information is the regular guest speaker and careers fair programme. Not just in the sixth form, but throughout the senior school starting from Year 7. This is the opportunity to listen to and question a myriad of professionals from different career paths. Pupils learn about different professions and also what qualifications, university and other steps they need to take to achieve them. The more frequent and varied these events, the better as each year builds on the next.
At the same time some school career departments encourage work experience during school holidays so that pupils gain more of an idea of what to expect in the workplace. It’s one thing to turn up on day one with a list full of qualifications. It’s quite another to know how to behave, and what is valued. Other schools run entrepreneurial challenges as part of the extra-curriculum to teach pupils the value of applied skills.
Going further still, a significant minority of schools align parts of the science and technical subject curricula to incorporate working in a corporate setting, such as a research project conducted in school and a corporate sponsor’s laboratory. Still firmly academic, these schools are preparing their pupils for the expectations of an employer with real-world real-assignment exposure.
A school brand associated with pupil employability
Some school brands are particularly associated with academic excellence. Others with sporting or artistic excellence. A fourth brand association is emerging. And that is pupil employability. No longer the dimly lit room at the end of the corridor. The school careers department is forging cooperation with local business and enterprise. And the allure is far more beneficial for pupils.