Don’t fail your students’ future

James Potten

James Potten is the managing director of RED Academy, an international digital design school offering intensive courses in digital marketing, user experience design and web & app development, which has now opened a campus in the heart of Central London. RED’s courses are all based about work experience and all students work with real clients on real projects, building their portfolios at the same time as learning. James also chairs a microfinance charity, Deki, which helps innovative projects in Africa.

Follow @jamespotten @RedAcademyUK

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Image credit: Flickr // Innov8social. Image credit: Flickr // Innov8social.

At the end of 2017, apprenticeship and skills minister Anne Milton released the Careers Strategy, outlining practical solutions in order to create a thriving careers system that is accessible to “everyone, whatever their age, to go as far as their talents will take them to have a rewarding career”.

Arguably however, the solutions provided by the government are often focusing on current students, or future generations that will be entering the school system, who will benefit from the upcoming policy changes such as improved careers advice. But what about those who are in their final years of education, or may already be in employment, who feel that their career isn’t right for them, but aren’t able to seek the right guidance or have missed the opportunity to build these digital skills?

The answer is for businesses to work in partnership with schools in order to provide much-needed support to students and recent school leavers, “Businesses must work in partnership with schools.”to allow them to see first-hand the opportunities that are available to them post-education. In doing so, we can close a somewhat ‘generation gap’ of careers advice and support, so that everyone, as Anne Milton states, will be able to go as far as their talents will take them, despite their age.

The ‘gold standard’ technical education system

It’s not the first time we have heard of the so called ‘digital skills gap’. This is the idea that currently, in the UK, the demand for digital-savvy employees far outweighs the supply, and there are concerns about how to overcome this. When we compare our technical education spending, we only spend around half of our gross domestic product on edtech than Germany and Australia.

So yes, the need for future policy to address the digital skills gap is very welcomed, but what can we be doing now to help students improve their digital skills, and as a result mobilise their ability to unlock their full potential?

Forging relationships

The best way for students to understand what the working world is like is to experience it first-hand! Without being given the opportunity to take part in work experience and placements, students won’t have a true understanding of what is expected in their chosen field and the day-to-day tasks they would likely be involved with.

It’s vital for schools to understand the benefits that collaborating with businesses will bring to not only the students, but also the employers themselves.

Therefore, schools should look to build links with businesses in their local area and arrange meetings to determine one another’s requirements and outcomes. It might be that professionals come into the school to deliver talks, the school hosts its own careers fair with various workshops run by businesses, or even SLT might arrange for groups of children to visit employees in their workplace for the day, to get an insight into various careers.

It’s important to expose students to a vast array of career opportunities so that they have a better understanding of the options awaiting them. Teachers cannot be expected to have strong knowledge on each and every sector, however, by listening to student’s aspirations and identifying their strengths, staff should be able to set up the right contacts and opportunities for them.

Working in partnership with companies and giving students access to industry professionals will help schools offer a variety of opportunities and insights into potential careers, and how best to prepare for it.

Every individual should be able to start a rewarding career that excels their expectations while allowing them to reach their full potential. But if they’re not in school, and they won’t benefit from the government’s policies, then what are they to do?

Narrowing the generation gap

According to a report from the Prince’s Trust, one in four working young people feel trapped in a cycle of jobs they don’t want, and almost a third of workers take whatever jobs they can get rather than focus on developing their career. When you think about that, that’s a lot of school leavers who are entering an industry without serious thought, or because they are trapped due to responsibilities.

Moreover, those who are already in employment, or have recently left school, may feel that their careers advice and focus on digital skills was lacking compared to those currently in school. However, this isn’t to say it’s too late to explore new skills and career options, or even to just try something new and develop natural talent.

Nevertheless, it’s difficult for individuals to spot these opportunities themselves, particularly if it’s something completely new. This is why businesses must step in to create opportunities for employees, or even just those who are interested in the industry, and why their involvement with schools is crucial.

Events and workshops

Firstly, events can be a great way to provide individuals with a snapshot of the company and world of a particular sector. Events such as a panel debate can be short and snappy, yet the discussions they generate are often eye opening and exciting, leaving a lasting impression and inspiring audience members.

Workshops can also be a really valuable way of engaging people with the key issues of an industry. For example, with the ever-increasing digital “Almost a third of workers take whatever jobs they can get.”skills gap, holding a workshop that covers basic digital skills including SEO, social media or digital marketing, will be incredibly helpful for those looking to enter that particular sector. There’s also the added benefit of being able to talk first-hand to the hosts about their own experiences.

The next step is to ensure schools are aware of these events, so that they can promote it to their current students and alumni. Schools could then collect feedback to highlight areas their students need help with, equipping them with the tools to support them as they get ready to enter their chosen careers.

Valuable experience

We teach children at school that to succeed in the world of work, it’s all about experience. Even when they leave school, the message is the same. The more insight someone can gain into their desired industry through work experience, internships and even part-time or full-time courses, the more it can really benefit their own knowledge and opportunities.

Businesses can really help individuals out just by hosting the opportunities for work experience. More schools should be approached to make this possible, whether this is organised through a local partnership, or even just working alongside providers such as training colleges and course providers.

Final thoughts

The careers strategy is welcomed with a real drive to improve the outcomes and improve digital skills, so we are better preparing students with technical education before they enter their future careers. However, there are small steps we can take immediately to better connect schools with businesses, and also support those who have recently left education through workshops, events or longer-term commitments such as internships and skill specific courses.

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