Where is the love?

Where is the love?

Careers work is treading a single path in many secondary schools, with a focus on employability and helping students discover how much can be earnt within different occupations. CEC and DWP have been providing some great and useful support alongside independent careers guidance professionals, widening young people’s understanding of what is possible. Such discussions are useful, especially those which include an exploration of Labour Market Information.  However, these are not the only discussions that can be had around careers work and decision making. With focussing on just the issues of employability and work, there is a real danger that we abandon the wider picture for one which is limited to a narrow or single focus.

Choices around GCSE, Post 16 and Post 18 choices do not always have to be made within an employability context or regarding what jobs certain choices may lead to. It is one context, but not the only one within which these decisions can be made. Unless we widen our discussions to include alternative ways to make decisions, young people may not know there are additional variables that can be considered.

A recent article in the New York Times[i] explored why studying the Humanities is useful beyond their role in building a path to work; their proposition is that taking subjects for the joy of them, or having an interest in them, is worthy and useful not only for the individual but potentially for society as well. To be well read and have a wider appreciation of the world is useful, beyond the confines of career. If this is the case, why should the decision making at these life stages within education be presented in the sole context of “career”?

I was working with a student a few years ago who wanted to take Philosophy further but was confused as they couldn’t see what work it would lead to. Philosophy was a subject they loved with a passion, but they felt that they couldn’t in good conscience follow a subject with (what they saw at the time as) having limited work prospects; their lack of understanding with regards the post-graduate job market meant that they didn’t realise how skills from degree study are transferred.

He was feeling that he “ought” to do a degree “with a purpose” (leading to what he saw as work).  He had Business and Finance in mind as he thought this would be “sensible”, but wasn’t inspired by this choice or direction. He didn’t realise how the majority of graduate training schemes don’t require any specific subjects to pursue as “relatively few roles require a specific degree[ii]”. Following the guidance work which explored this, his new found understanding allowed him to decide on following a path of study for pleasure whilst also keeping employment prospects open afterwards; with the mindfulness that some skills from some degrees provide greater graduate employment prospects than others (with a warning regarding blanket graduate premiums[iii]). It was a session which focused on more than one context including what was enjoyable, motivating and interesting, as well as how these could link to a career and work.

His understanding led him to consider what he could do during his Philosophy degree to boost his graduate skills whilst following his study for pleasure. It also enabled him to relax into his studies and enjoy his education. He felt more motivated to study not only for his A-Levels, but also for a degree which he was then excited and interested in. He was therefore more likely to gain higher grades and in doing so, access a better graduate training programme if he gained a 2:1+ rather than a 2:2 (because he was motivated).

His odds for employment were potentially improved when he considered studying something for fun; one of the most wonderful things within life and education. Consider the notion of studying a subject for the love of it, because it interests and appeals. How many of us have considered discussing this within our careers conversation with students, as opposed to discussing just the job prospects each subject may directly lead to?

Alongside studying for enjoyment, why not also for wisdom and understanding? Many graduates become business leaders of the future; consider the benefit of these leaders having a wider grasp of the impact of their decision making. A leader with Politics, Literature or History under their belt may have insights on life which may then impact on their decision making. As the famous adage states “Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it[iv]

What of the Art graduates who not only have a love of culture and appreciation, but also have creativity skills to allow them to apply their lateral thinking and solve problems by thinking “outside the box”, a sought after skill by business leaders. Notably, a recent study shows that creativity is the third most important skill which will be needed by 2020[v].  

In turn, we could insert Gap Years and travel here; not only enjoyable but also an opportunity to gain a wealth of employability skills.

Consider the student who chose A-Level French for fun.  Later it may help their career if working abroad but even if they never did this, why not have French for the love of language and culture; to have a skill that can be used on holiday? Must the choice of whether to take a subject always be linked to a “career” when it can, instead, also be made because it is interesting, fun or even just “because...”?

Perhaps, in an age of “austerity” this may seem like a frippery and luxury, but these discussions of “what would you wish to do for fun?” can sit alongside those of exploring “which choices may make you more employable”. Careers Guidance is more than just discussions with regards employment and what sort of jobs are available; it is more than course and labour market advice. It is also about helping young people understand how the various routes within the systems we are given operate, and crucially, how these can be taken advantage of to provide not only the routes to employment, but also to opportunities that can provide us with the most enjoyable paths life has to offer for each and every one of us.

We risk narrowing our discussions to the detriment of our learners and the depth of wonder that life and education can bring. Education is not just for “work and career”, it can be for so much more…life skills, citizenship, culture, understanding of our world, learning concepts which may change an individual’s world view, such as social justice and human rights.  

Understandably, being able to find a job and have enough income to live on is vitally important, but these considerations need not always been at the cost of sacrificing the wider picture, be that fun, enjoyment, love of a subject and at worse, through sacrificing our young people’s mental health when they feel they “ought” to be taking a certain path.    

Written by: Chris Targett

Thursday 8th February 2018