Cutting-edge careers support

Helga Armstrong

Helga Armstrong is head of Careers at Merchant Taylors’ School in Northwood, Middlesex. She works with InvestIN Education to give her students the chance to learn from successful professionals who have excelled in some of the most competitive fields – including law, medicine, banking, engineering and journalism. InvestIN Education gives students insight into the skills they need to succeed, via industry expert-led coaching programmes. Teachers can sign up at Visit InvestIN Education’s Facebook page.

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For young people today, getting their dream job is becoming more and more difficult, not easier. Amidst rising levels of competition, the top jobs are going fast – which is why school careers services have a crucial role to play.

Schools can help students acquire key skills, encourage them to believe in themselves and present themselves with confidence, and teach them how to write an effective CV and succeed at interview. This support is especially important towards the end of Secondary school, when many students are making the choices that will determine their future.

Giving students the tools to make an informed choice should therefore be central to any careers service. Demystifying the various career options available, by offering insights into different professions, gives “Extra-curricular activities play a vital role in preparing students for adult life.”students a solid foundation from which they can better understand the skills and knowledge they will need, and can then make their own decisions.

It is this philosophy of ‘informed choice’ which guides all of our careers support at Merchant Taylors’ School, including our ongoing successful relationship with successful professionals. Academic qualifications and extra-curricular activities play a vital role in preparing students for life after education, and giving young people an understanding of what it is exactly that employers are looking for can make all the difference.

So many students are unsure about how best to make their first steps towards the career they want. They may be excelling academically at Science, Maths, or Economics, or have captained the school’s football team, but they often don’t know how to translate these achievements into employability, and are unaware of the careers options that would allow them to pursue their interests and use their strengths.

In our experience, students’ employability is best supported by offering the opportunity to learn from professionals who have successfully climbed the career ladder and are eager to share their experience. With in-depth knowledge of their profession, they can help young people stand out from the crowd. Equally, students are grateful for the chance to learn from and be inspired by high-flying professionals who have the skills they aspire to – making it a win-win for all.

Professionals can support students in a number of ways. They can encourage them to begin developing their own networks, getting them out of their comfort zone and connecting them with people “We give prospective lawyers the chance to act out a mock trial.”outside of their usual friend and family circles. Networking gives young people the chance to meet people from a wide range of different industries, learn about the pros and cons of careers in different sectors, and how to break into them.

Students also pick up a great deal of practical experience, and come to understand what sort of skills and behaviours will set them apart. For example, through young lawyer and young engineer programmes, we give prospective lawyers the chance to act out a mock trial, and potential engineers the opportunity to design their own product. This connects theory with practice, enabling students to learn by doing and try their hand at a career.

Students also emerge with a firmer grasp of the crucial ‘soft skills’ they need to succeed. These are skills like negotiation, presentation, leadership, and communication, which are central to building effective relationships with colleagues, driving forward projects, and achieving results.

Promoting programmes with successful professionals to our students has allowed us to bring a diverse range of jobs and industries to life. Students come away from sessions with lawyers, doctors, bankers, engineers, and journalists full of enthusiasm and drive, determined to make use of their new-found skills to pursue the job of their dreams.

This is ultimately what education is all about – giving students the tools to make informed choices. Using the expertise of today’s leaders to help develop those of tomorrow is an opportunity we simply cannot miss – our students’ futures depend on it.

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