Our world of careers choices and education is a wonderful and brilliant one but, in some instances it is one which is polarised and misses the “fuzzy areas”, or the bits which don’t fit neatly into tidy boxes. Take for example Post 16 and Post 18 choices; a common list for these options would be:
Such a list assumes these are the only choices to be made. If students are fortunate, sometimes setting up and running your own business is mentioned alongside work experience. All too often though this is as an afterthought, an added extra; a signpost to “organisations and people who can provide you with business advice.”
As a reputed “nation of shop keepers[i]” we are doing a disservice to our young people if we don’t provide greater support in helping them to access all of the paths available to them including entrepreneurship. If we don’t provide a foundation where they can develop the skills and know-how to embrace all of their choices, it makes it much harder for them to consider, let alone access.
With automation we see many high street shops closing[ii] – however, the shop keepers are still there (online instead of on the streets)[iii]. Just take a look at online marketplaces such as Etsy[iv], Bricklink[v], Amazon Marketplace[vi] as well as Ebay[vii] and we find a thriving e-commerce community.
All too often, options are discussed in polarised terms of choosing apprenticeship or university/post-graduate employment. Routes where you mix and match your pathways as your ideas develop can be overlooked, for example:
“Going to 6th form or college, followed by a school leaver scheme or apprenticeship then taking on university later.”
In a similar way, portfolio careers get missed; recent articles highlight how developing a “side hustle[viii]” can be a way of creating opportunities for ourselves in an increasingly chaotic world as well as finding fulfilment and meaning[ix]. So why don’t we as educationalists, parents and carers, discuss this more often as an option with our students and young people? As career development professionals can we do more to support young people and even the adults we work with, to consider setting up their own businesses or side hustles?
We find there are also the ‘unofficial’ apprenticeships; such as those within tattooing, which don’t attract government funding but still provide a route to successful careers with training on the job. Alongside, there are others who have taken to working part time or within the gig economy whilst growing their skills for future careers through MOOCs[x] and online courses such as nanodegrees[xi] and related networks[xii].
So what can be done?
How do we make these options more open for discussion? Tristram Hooley makes a strong case for careers work to be threaded through the whole school community and mapped against the Gatsby Benchmarks[xiii]. I would go further and argue that the culture which we build around our careers discussions needs to go further; to be one of non-judgment and equity (whether you’re a teacher or careers adviser). We need to overtly set our intentions around any careers discussion that we are not there to judge or persuade students to choose one option over another, thereby creating space to discuss all choices.
We need to name entrepreneurship as an option and offer support into this pathway in the same way we do the others. Within Kent (where CXK is based) “The majority of enterprises in Kent (89.8%) are microenterprises (with 0‐9 employees)[xiv]”we must ensure that our careers information, education, advice and guidance is reflective of this demographic. This includes talking about organisations that can support such as FSB,[xv] Kent Foundation[xvi], Princes Trust[xvii] and Shell Live Wire[xviii] and having their advocates in schools and colleges as part of our young people experiencing “encounters with employers”[xix].
We should consider the implicit messages we provide our students if we give more time to the support of one option over another. For example:
If in year 12 and 13 two thirds of the available “tutor time” is devoted to discussions around university applications and open days, compared to a third for the remaining choices, how disempowering might this be for students wishing to explore or receive support with these other choices?
Place this in context of the recent coverage which considers how complex and difficult it can be to apply for some apprenticeships[xx] and our students are disenfranchised on more than one account. In the shadow of this, the lack of support available for students in building and developing their own businesses whether after 6th form, college, university or alongside is frightening.
Let’s change the narrative; when planning our career programmes in school (which the updated statutory guidance draws attention to[xxi]), let us ensure they provide equal weighting in time and reference, as well as support, to all of the available options.
Our free resources at: https://www.cxk.org/resources/ can help support your students with this next step, including our latest handout (for people of all ages) covering the setting up and running of your own business.