Where can I gain experience in cabinet making? What should I do now I've finished A-levels?

Cupboard love

Q. Following redundancy after 20 years as an engineer, I am retraining as a cabinet maker, which I am enjoying. But I will need several years of hands-on experience before I can think about setting up on my own. Jobs are scarce as most small firms don't have the time to employ an inexperienced trainee. How can I go about finding an apprenticeship or job, here or abroad?

A. The good news is that the jobs may take a while to find, but according to Roger Mason, managing director of the British Furniture Manufacturers' Association (BFM), they are there. The BFM has more than 7,000 companies on its books, 80 per cent of which employ fewer than 10 people, so they fall into the category you are searching for. And there are skill shortages, with companies "crying out for good people whatever their age", says Mason. He'd be willing to forward your details to members - he is on info@bfm.og.uk.

The Furniture, Furnishings and Interiors Sector Skills Body (FFINTO) can also put your profile on their website, www.ffinto.org - cabinet-making companies use this site and may take an interest. Ask those running your course if companies have been in touch asking for trainees. The local Learning Skills Council should also know of local employer initiatives ( www.lsc.gov.uk). The BFM has a list of trade associations abroad, and most Jobcentres have links with the Europe-wide network of employment services, EURES. The website www.europa.eu.int/jobs/eures, has a job-search facility. If you are applying speculatively yourself, research into the company you are writing to will pay off, as will developing a portfolio of work.

Shopped out

Q. I am currently working as a shop assistant but find it unstimulating. I have three good A-levels. My strengths lie in helping people, but I don't want to take the university route and would prefer to gain experience on the practical side. I have worked with people of varying age groups but have never been particularly confident with my own age group. Any suggestions?

A. There are various non-graduate routes into some NHS jobs you might be interested in - it's worth checking on www.nhscareers.nhs.uk/careers. There are opportunities to work in support or assistant roles in jobs from nursing to therapy, and for these you don't need a degree - differing levels of qualifications are required and some of your previous experience may be useful. These are jobs which involve plenty of patient contact, and with yet more experience and perhaps additional NVQs, you should be able to move into more advanced roles later.

Another route into a more satisfying job might be social care. Unlike social work, social care, where you are providing hands-on care for a variety of groups, does not need a degree. Social care has had a bad press because the hours can be long and the wages are not high, but going for a job where you have a chance of doing an NVQ should mean you can do rewarding work as well as move towards a qualification and a step up the ladder. Contact the Social Work and Care Careers Helpline on 0845 604 6404 or look up www.socialcarecareers.co.uk.

For an overall view of the range of jobs on offer, look at www.ethicalcareers.org which is a portal providing information, jobs, advice and articles (including case studies) about careers with conscience. It might spark ideas in an area you hadn't previously considered.

Careers adviser: the learndirect advice service at www.learndirect-advice.co.uk.

Send your queries to Caroline Haydon at 'The Independent', Education Desk, Independent House, 191 Marsh Wall, London E14 9RS; or fax 020-7005 2143; or e-mail to chaydon@blueyonder.co.uk