A-level students around the country have been biting their nails this week and waiting for the results that could determine their future. However, the news that over 80,000 of them won’t be going to university, coupled with the sheer cost of a degree, would suggest that this might be the first year of students to give seriously consideration to starting their careers early. Certainly, BT’s revelation that it had received 24,000 applications for its apprenticeship scheme, working out at about 100 applications per place, would seem to reinforce this.
We’ve all read the scare stories which make getting a job seem like an impossible proposition but if you’re worried that no degree means no job, think again. We spoke to some of the leading employers about what they look for in young recruits and the options available are wider than you might think. Here is the advice they gave:
1. Just because you don’t have a degree doesn’t mean you can’t get professional qualifications.
Whilst you might think you need a degree to be in with a chance at any big organisation, you’d be wrong. Companies are realising that three years spent studying the tenants of Greek philosophy doesn’t necessarily make for top-notch employees, in fact most of them now offer training with the job, so you can earn and learn at the same time.
Go for one of the traditional “professions” and you’re even more likely to end up with letters after your name. Both KPMG and PwC offer schemes for school-leavers, with PwC giving employees the opportunity to gain a degree whilst working — you can opt into the BSc (Hons) in Applied Accounting at Oxford Brookes on top of your ACCA qualification. Even law, which traditionally requires years of study isn’t off limits. You can become a legal executive with ILEX, which allows you to work and study at the same time. Legal executives do similar work as solicitors and you can even go on to be a partner in your own law firm. John Lewis, more often known for its graduate scheme, offers school-leavers the chance to gain level 2 and 3 diplomas (the equivalent to five GCSEs and two A-levels respectively) which will boost your CV and resourcing manager Carole Donaldson says there “have been numerous examples within John Lewis where individuals have progressed to become senior partners within the business”.
2. You have more experience than you think.
Given that most employers cite a lack of experience as a reason for not hiring graduates, A-level students could be forgiven for thinking their chances are even slimmer. However, in this case youth is an advantage as employers are looking for examples of transferable skills rather than specific work experience. Claire Doonan, head of recruitment at the British Gas Energy Academy, advises students to get as much “real experience of working face to face with customers – even if it’s not related to the industry you eventually go into” as you can, meaning your Saturday job at the local pub could be a lot more relevant than it first appears.
At this stage employers want to see that you’re committed and ambitious, and you can show this through a variety of ways. PwC look for “playing on a sports team, travel or volunteer work” as proof that you’ve got some get-up and go. Kay Jones Wolsley, head of recruitment at Marks & Spencers, recommends that students think of examples of situations where they’ve shown leadership, initiative and decision making skills before they turn up to interview. The examples can come from school clubs you’ve been in or run, to how you managed your A-level coursework, the key thing is to think about how the skills could relate to the job you’ll be doing. No-one expects you to know it all, the most important thing is that you show you’re eager to learn.
3. You won’t necessarily miss out on the uni “experience”
If you’re worried that not going to university means that you’ll miss out on three years of guilt-free hangovers and casual sex… well, yes you probably will. However, you’ll also be debt free and with the all important “work experience” the lack of which could see some of your graduate friends back living with their parents. Plus, most companies now realise that the social side of work has its place too. While, this doesn’t mean that lying in bed on the company’s time will be tolerated, if you join a training scheme you’ll be with a bunch of like-minded people giving you an automatic friendship group to go for drinks with and get help from.
If you’re still looking at that envelope and worrying what to do, then the final words go to Simon Lloyd, HR director at Santander, “take your time to think about your own skills and what you enjoyed about your studies and make sure this is reflected in your long-term career plan, it’s your career and your choice”.