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The importance of preparing students for the workplace

Posted on: 27 Sep 2019

Dr Joseph Spence, head of Dulwich College, discusses the value careers-based workshops can bring to independent schools and their state school partners.

Careers education is an important element of a school’s provision, and a service one cannot introduce to pupils too early. Prospective parents, even of 11‐year‐olds, are asking far more questions than they used to about how we are preparing children for the workplace of the future. This is inevitable given all of the rhetoric about the percentage of jobs not yet created into which our pupils will move, and the fact that they will likely have multiple careers, possibly across many countries or continents, over the course of long working lives.


Networking events focused on particular professions or industries have proven immensely popular. These bring together former pupils and current and past parents, alongside pupils from both independent and state schools.


However, it is also useful to look for ways older pupils can deliver light‐touch advice to their younger peers at partner schools. As co‐director of the Southwark Schools Learning Partnership, I have been delighted in recent years to be able to encourage a hub of careers advisers from a good number of our 16 schools (12 state schools and four independent schools) to share best practice between schools and across the sectors. Latterly, we have had our own students help focus the minds of younger pupils at a partner school on potential university applications and the world of careers.


Last June, a group of Year 10 students from City Heights E‐ACT Academy in South East London had a careers workshop with our careers adviser at Dulwich College, and a group of the College’s Year 12 students. The workshop introduced the UCAS process with a short ‘true or false’ activity, with students from both schools working in teams to decide on the veracity of various statements. The statements included the number of applicants to university through UCAS, World University Rankings, average graduate salaries and deciding what degree courses some famous people had taken. This was an effective ice-breaking exercise, which ensured that no one could feel he or she was an expert when it came to university admissions.


The Year 10 City Heights students were then given a brief overview of the UCAS applications process and the Year 12 students explained what A‐levels they were doing and the different courses and universities they were planning to apply to. The City Heights pupils were introduced to course and career options they had not previously considered, while the Dulwich College pupils said it really helped them to clarify their own plans by having to articulate them for younger pupils.


The next activity consisted of a wide‐ranging discussion of the likely nature of jobs in the future that haven’t been created yet. Students were also advised about courses and careers on to which one could move later, e.g. becoming a solicitor or barrister via a post‐graduate law conversion course.


The final part of the workshop consisted of a question and answer session, much of which focused on what subjects were needed for certain careers. This also gave the Dulwich students and their careers adviser the opportunity to talk about the importance of engaging in co‐curricular activities that might support a career aspiration, such as volunteering in a hospital or care home for healthcare related careers. The feedback from the session was universally positive and this workshop has provided a template Dulwich College will consider repeating at City Heights and taking to other 11‐16 partner schools.


There was a time when the only careers advice the head of an independent school needed to offer sixth formers was on how to write a personal statement. Those days are long gone. Whether explicitly or implicitly, the new order is that everything we do with our students has some bearing on preparing them for the fast-changing workplace. The jobs they will go into may be newly minted or newly branded, but the skills and aptitudes they will require to succeed in them are, in fact, those which have always been needed in the world of work: the ability to lead on a project, to work in a team, to communicate clearly and the ability to think outside the box.


All this they learn in their representation of the school on its sport field, in the joining of musical and theatrical ensembles, in their community projects and charitable fundraising and in their adventurous activities. We are all careers educators now – but explicit, nuanced careers advice delivered by those who work hard to keep up to speed with changes in the major (and new) professions, is still absolutely essential.

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About Dr Joseph Spence

Dr Joseph Spence is head of Dulwich College.