Getting a job is an education

There are plenty of career opportunities available for school leavers who choose a salary over a loan.
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The Independent Online

Higher education is not everyone's cup of tea. Some students made a positive decision not to take this route earlier in the year. Others may be finding this option forced upon them now they know their results. The good news for them is that although entry requirements for an increasing number of careers is now a degree, there are still employers who value the skills 18-year-olds have or can develop and who give credit for advanced study such as A-level, Highers or Advanced GNVQ.

Higher education is not everyone's cup of tea. Some students made a positive decision not to take this route earlier in the year. Others may be finding this option forced upon them now they know their results. The good news for them is that although entry requirements for an increasing number of careers is now a degree, there are still employers who value the skills 18-year-olds have or can develop and who give credit for advanced study such as A-level, Highers or Advanced GNVQ.

Employment need not be an inferior choice. Some people are much better suited to the learning-while-earning approach. Many become successful managers. Some words of warning however. Just as employment is not necessarily an inferior move, nor is it a soft option.

Getting a job does not mean saying goodbye to study, exams and homework. Good jobs require further study - and the bad news is that much of it takes place after a full day's work. Young workers comment on the fact that they felt their university friends led a charmed existence consisting of a small number of lectures and the freedom to fit in supporting study at their own convenience. They, in comparison, were following training courses either through day release - one day (often 9am-9pm) at college or through evening classes. In both cases, assignments had to be completed and exams prepared for in their leisure time.

School and college leavers choosing this route at this time of year must be careful in their approach to employers, who naturally enough do not appreciate being seen as second best. Some thought needs to be given to likely interview questions focusing on commitment and motivation. Interviewers will need to be convinced that applicants are now genuinely convinced that employment is a positive step.

That said, which career openings are possible at age 18? First, there is a reasonable number of openings for which no particular exam subjects are required. It is unusual for employers to ask for specific humanities subjects. On the other hand, if the job needs a science subject, a requirement for biology, chemistry or physics will be stated.

Obviously, where the job requires a high level of communication skills, an employer will give preference to an applicant who can demonstrate this, as well as other abilities required in the job, which will be judged through application forms and interviews. Such skills might include the ability to work in a team, IT literacy, numeracy or leadership.

Numeracy and communication skills are important - usually demonstrated by passes in GCSE English and maths. Armed with these, plus two or three A-level subjects, school leavers could look for employment in finance, such as banking, insurance and accountancy (although 92 per cent of chartered accountancy entrants are now graduates); administration and management in both the private and public sectors, or sales work - including retail management, estate agency and auctioneering.

The emergency services, air traffic control and the armed services attract a number of applicants each year, as does the travel and tourism business - which includes opportunities at ports and with airlines. There are openings in leisure and hospitality work also.

Opportunities to train as journalists, planners and surveyors have declined in favour of graduates, although some still exist. The computer industry is buoyant and recruits at this level. It is no longer possible to become a solicitor straight from A-level but there are other legal jobs to consider such as legal executive - from which there is a progression route to solicitor's training. Students who have taken science subjects to an advanced level can add engineering and scientific laboratory work.

To buoy the confidence of those wanting to move straight into the world of work, retailers, the Royal Navy, the Foreign and Commonwealth Office and some engineering companies (that traditionally used to recruit at 16-plus and graduate level entry only) have been making efforts to recruit 18-year-olds.

Some employers insist that appropriate examinations are passed. In some professions, notably accountancy, air traffic control, engineering, legal executive work, planning and surveying such examinations act as a form of licence to practise. In others, professional qualifications are not obligatory but aid promotion prospects. Most ambitious banking and building society staff, for example, study for the qualifications offered by the Chartered Institute of Bankers. Most laboratory technicians study for an appropriate higher national certificate. One fast food chain sponsors its junior managers through a part-time Higher National Diploma in business studies. Part-time routes are available for qualifications in business studies, marketing, advertising or personnel work.

Many companies had closing dates earlier in the year. Students wishing to apply to them may have to "lose" a year and do so in the late autumn or spring 2001.

In the meantime, they could take a gap year or a temporary job and acquire some skills useful to the CV. Among such companies is Marks & Spencer - which has recently reorganised its "Young Manager" training scheme. Applications will be accepted between October this year and January 2001 for entry in September 2001. Among those that are still recruiting are big name organisations such as BAE Systems, formerly British Aerospace.

The employment situation for 18-year-olds with advanced qualifications has been improved by the introduction of Modern Apprenticeships and in particular with the newly available level of "advanced" Modern Apprenticeship, which is intended for the more academically able entrant.

Training programmes, on a salaried or training allowance basis, take on average two years to complete, they are designed to lead to supervisory or junior managerial positions, and they may be followed by study for professional qualifications, or even higher education (sometimes through employer-sponsorship). Modern Apprenticeships are available in over eighty occupational areas.

For information on Modern Apprenticeships, call 0800 100 900 or visit www.open.gov.uk/dfee/mapintro.htm

Beryl Dixon is the author of 'Jobs and Careers After A-level and GNVQ', published by Lifetime Careers Publishing which includes case studies of 40 young people in different careers, all of whom left school with A-levels or equivalent qualifications

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