Careers advice: making the right choices

Young people studying STEM subjects are not getting the quality of careers advice they deserve. Julia Chippendale weighs in on solving the problem.

I am a fan of and have much respect for universities. They are centres of excellence, they turn out brilliant graduates who will become our future leaders, and drive the knowledge economy that is vital to the future of all sectors within the UK economy.

Julia Chippendale, managing director, EAL
Julia Chippendale, managing director, EAL.

I can make exactly the same statement about the vocational education pathway, but – despite it being true – persuading some parents, educators and young people the fact is an entirely different matter.

There has been much progress over the past five years, thanks to a shift in government policy and employer-led calls to tackle the country’s skills shortage.

Apprenticeships, which should be seen as the gold standard, are at least making it into the spotlight, if not always into the careers advice delivered in schools.

Yet there are still thousands of young people, nervously awaiting GCSE and A Level results, who have potentially made the wrong choice or are ill-prepared to choose the right path for the future.

It saddens me to see potential waste when industry is crying out for talented, skilled young people to replenish the ageing workforce.

Too many excellent graduates in physics, chemistry, engineering and a host of other disciplines important to the advanced manufacturing and engineering sector, end up in unrelated careers such as retail or financial services.

EAL is the pre-eminent awarding organisation for engineering and advanced manufacturing, rail and building services sectors.

Then there are the potential apprentices. So many of our country’s chief executives and business leaders began their working lives as apprentices in engineering and advanced manufacturing.

However, with apprenticeships having fallen out of fashion over a 20-year period, we are playing catch-up with the next generation.

Why then do we have this continued academic snobbery and lack of coherent careers advice about vocational pathways?

More employers than ever are doing a brilliant job by going into schools and colleges, bringing young people into the workplace for hands-on experience and promoting their apprentices as role models, who can talk on a level with pupils no adult can hope to achieve.

There are also innovative degree apprenticeships, bringing together the best of higher and vocational education offered in key areas, including chartered surveying; aerospace engineering; construction, and nuclear.

UK Automotive Sector Worker
Making the right choice as a teenager entering a lifetime of work is not as easy as it sounds.

Groups of employers, universities and colleges have developed practical, vocational degree courses combining both academic study from a traditional university degree, and the practical experience and wider employment skills vital for career success.

They allow apprentices to achieve a full bachelor’s or master’s degree, while training on the job.

Making the right choice as a teenager entering a lifetime of work is not as easy as it sounds – we can make it easier by providing clear advice as to where each choice will lead them.

It is time once and for all to bust the myths. Attracting more people onto accredited apprenticeships and retaining more STEM graduates in relevant STEM careers, will have a positive impact, not just on the individual concerned but also on the wider economy.

All of us working in industry must up our game to show young people and those who influence them that there is more than one way to gain credible qualifications and a passport to long-term employment.