Much has been written about how young people manage the transition from school to work – although I would argue not enough. Employers are very aware that the skills and experiences that young people leave education with are not fully preparing them to be effective in the workplace, but they are willing to accept that some additional training and support will be needed. However, it’s often what we would consider the simple things that catch them out – how to structure an email (they never use them), what they should wear (they’re used to a uniform), the fact that they don’t have to put their hand up to ask a question or go to the bathroom… The worlds of work and school are clearly very different places.
And that’s something we need to be acutely aware of as Enterprise Advisers. On the surface, both schools and businesses are focused on targets (profit/attainment), but there are vast differences in schedules, context and the policy environment.
The academic year is like a heart that beats three times a year, a rhythm that still resonates with us as adults (who hasn’t felt the lure of learning something new in September?). So much planning goes into allocating the necessary resources against an increasingly tight budget, that one small deviation causes a huge ripple effect. Businesses generally have the capability to be more agile in their response. And the targets that schools are working to are annual, not quarterly or even monthly.
Context is important. The school you are working with may be, according to Ofsted, outstanding but they may be preparing for their next inspection. Or they could have just had a ‘requires improvement’ judgement. Either way, the focus and priority is unlikely to be arranging meetings between an EA and the senior management team. The nearest comparison for a business is probably the audit process – having just been through mine, I know that it doesn’t matter how confident you are in your financial processes, there’s still a huge sigh of relief when they are judged adequate.
And finally, the policy environment for schools is far removed from that of business. Yes, there is a lot of red tape for both small and large businesses, but the frequency of changes in government education policy over the last two or three decades is hard to keep pace with. It affects everything from curriculum, to funding, to teachers’ pay, and given how far ahead schools have to plan, head teachers are always running just to stand still.
The first rule of influencing is understanding the perspective of those on the opposite side of the table. Our role as critical friends to the Careers Lead can be compromised by a lack of time, communication or prioritisation, and that’s true whether the school has a full time Careers Lead or a teacher who has a couple of hours a week to deliver a programme. We’re all in this for the long game; persistence, patience and flexibility have to be our watchwords.
We know from our recent research that children are forming stereotypes at the age of seven. We also know that they are abandoning their aspirational careers between the ages of nine and thirteen.