When did you first decide an academic school subject wasn’t for you? Perhaps it was the day everyone laughed at your French accent? Or when the English teacher made you read Catcher in the rye? (You have my sympathy – that boy needs to get over himself).

Mine was in during a physics lesson on a hot summer day, when Mr Redmond was once again attempting to convince me to do science A-level.

“You could become an engineer,” he said, “like my daughter. She’s studying it at university, and she’s going to spend her summer in a ball-bearing factory”. It was right then, with visions of an youthful Alison Redmond (I have no idea if this was her name), bored out of her head, sitting in a boiling hot factory counting ball bearings all summer long that I determined I would never, ever be an engineer.

Poor Mr Redmond. On reflection, he never said she’d be counting them. And he was genuinely trying to help. But teen minds are fickle things and with one sentence he evaporated any chance of my becoming a science teacher.

I know an underwater cartographer. I’ve often wondered which careers advisor would spot that potential

The Careers and Enterprise Company has had tens of millions handed to it since 2014. In return, it has organised a lot of people, and a lot of events, and a lot of resources. One of its favourite statistics is that research from the Education and Employers Taskforce shows that a young person who has four or more meaningful encounters with an employer while at school is 85 per cent less likely to be unemployed in future.

Imagine if, once a year, form tutors brought someone in from among their family or friendship group who does a job – any job – to spend time showing something about their workplace. Then, the following week, pupils could facetime the person at their workplace. Stick it on the whiteboard. Show everyone. Have the adult whizz around their colleagues getting hellos for the kid.

If schools did this once a year every year, by the age of 16, pupils would have met people doing 11 jobs and seen all their workplaces. And it wouldn’t cost a penny.

I know an underwater cartographer. I’ve often wondered which careers advisor would spot that potential: “Well Jemma, I can see you like geography, and also swimming, so have I got the job for you!”

In all the profile interviews I’ve done for Schools Week – well over 50 – only one person ever said they took a job because the careers advisor told them to do it. And wouldn’t you know, it was Nick Gibb. In his final year at university he went to the careers service and someone told him he should be a tax advisor. So that’s what he did. Sometimes I wish she’d told him to work as a Montessori teacher.

If anyone reading this piece knows Mr Redmond, I want you to tell him all was not lost.

Before I came into teaching, when I was working a soulless office job, I did an Open University course in engineering for a year, sitting in night school classrooms with blokes from the local factories. I wanted to find out if it was really all about ball bearings, or if there was more to it.

Teachers really are the best careers advisors. They turn us onto, or away from, entire life paths in a sentence. Though they may never know which way, ultimately, it will go.

Laura McInerney is contributing editor of Schools Week



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6 Comments

  1. Last I checked, my role as a Careers Advisor does not involve telling people what to do. Exploration and Challenging for sure. If I had the power to guarantee people jobs I think I would be either immensely wealthy or living in a dictatorship. Allowing choices to be seen and allowing people to recognise their potential is a large part of my role. I don’t teach, I aim to encourage and enable. I do not have magic dust to make things happen. I imagine that most teachers are there because they want to teach, and inspiration and support is part of it. Excellent. Hopefully teachers really are the best teachers. I aim to be the best Careers Advisor I can be. Oddly enough you may think, I do not know about every single job going, but I know how to enthuse and enable people to explore for themselves and seek support from people that can help them – friends, families, careers advisors and yes, even teachers.
    There is a difference between Careers Education and Careers Advice (Guidance) and your idea sits firmly in Careers Education. Careers Education is essential and in my experience has been effectively lacking in many educational institutions. If you want to know more about ideas on how schools can support young people with their futures the Gatsby Benchmarks is a good place to start. https://www.careersandenterprise.co.uk/schools-colleges/gatsby-benchmarks

  2. Careers advisers don’t tell, they advise. Teachers with responsibility for careers (if they still exist) don’t tell either. They teach whatever is their subject and implement the school’s careers education and guidance programme (CEG). High-quality CEG helps pupils make decisions wisely. Note: I didn’t say make a wise decision – this presumes there’s only one wise decision. What constitutes the wise decision is too often decided by the one doing the telling. That’s why careers advisers don’t tell. And teachers shouldn’t tell either. Neither should politicians.

  3. Further to my comment above, I thought Laura’s article was rather tongue-in-cheek. The examples she gives hardly support the contention that teachers are the best careers advisers. Their enthusiastic and well-meaning intervention may actually put pupils off.

  4. Laura seems to be playing devil’s advocate and is not too aware of the pressure put on teachers today.

    Teachers should be complementing the work done by good Career Advisers, of whom there are many – too many teachers and students come back with the misunderstood advice in a session – “I was told to be an undertaker or another occupation they had little interest in.
    That is the point of CIAG – finding out about interests, aptitudes and present level of ability, sometimes through on line questionnaires offered by many of the great Careers sites available, as well as the Morrisby Profile. As such, these offer a good starting point for discussion and then action points to begin or develop any research already undertaken.

    Unfortunately, so little related careers work is done prior to Year 12 in schools now, that there is such a huge gap in the learner’s knowledge and understanding, let alone with work experience dropped by many schools to give opportunities just to get out of school! That means pressure is added to start the process when it should have been on-going throughout school.

    Laura must know that what she has said is incorrect or should do and has started a good debate about what is missing and what should be happening – it is in some schools and colleges but CEIAG is a joint collaboration between schools/colleges and employers and as such, needs co-ordinating and linking to subjects and their teachers across the curriculum, with mentors and support from employers.

  5. Teachers are the best careers advisers is an absolute untried statement . Even the House of Lords disagrees with you. They would be the best if all you wanted was the full up tour 6th form or A level courses but impartial advise is missing and this is the only way to do good for the pupil. https://commonslibrary.parliament.uk/research-briefings/cbp-7236/
    After reading this article you might be asking why do schools still not refer to the national careers service and also employ their own teachers as advisers .