The Schools Minister David Laws has issued his support to i's Back to School campaign, saying that providing career advice to teenagers was “a bit of a no brainer”.
Speaking to Year 10 students at Westfield Academy in his Yeovil constituency in Somerset, the Liberal Democrat MP encouraged students to “think big” and dream of jobs outside their communities.
The event, run by alumni community charity Future First, saw seven of the school’s ex-students take to the stage to talk to pupils about their careers.
"I’m absolutely delighted to support this partnership between the i and Future First which will help boost the opportunities of thousands of young people across the country and also help young people to have a better chance of success when they apply for jobs,” said Mr Laws.
“Everyone needs that inspiration when they leave school to think that anything is possible. They need to think big and not be constrained by whatever they see around them.”
Future First, which Mr Laws has now supported for two years, helps schools and colleges build up a network of alumni who can share their skills and experiences with current students. So far 500 schools across the UK have signed up to the scheme, which has been running for five years.
"It's a really good initiative," said returning graphic designer Reece Laurance, 20, who left the school in 2004. "It's a wonderful chance for the pupils to see what it's like for us guys in later life."
During the workshop students were invited to share their career aspirations, yielding suggestions as varied as pilot, baker, and computer engineer.
Fourteen-year-old Molly Carter, who wants to train to be a midwife, said she enjoyed meeting people from the same background as her who had gone on to succeed in their chosen professions.
“It was nice to see how they’ve all gone on to achieve,” she said. “I’m lucky. I’ve always wanted to be a midwife, so I have a plan!”
Students also heard from NHS nurse co-ordinator Samantha Roney, 48, who left the school in 1981 and works at Yeovil District Hospital.
"We didn’t have any advice in those days,” she said. “We just looked in the local Gazette and found a job. I didn’t have the confidence to look elsewhere. If I had my time again, I'd have gone to university, definitely.”
School principal Chris Hunt praised the “human side” of the scheme, saying that talking to ex-students was as important as receiving advice from further education providers.
“If students see somebody who they remember being at the school, that has an immediacy and raises aspirations. Students will think: ‘If they can do it, perhaps I can as well’.”
Speaking to i as the event came to a close, Mr Laws said: "It is really important when people apply for jobs that they should get a flavour for what the jobs consist of, that they should have advice before interviews, and they should have some of the advantages that other applicants will get when they apply for jobs.
“I did get quite good advice when I was that age, and it is not just about careers - it is about confidence. The advice that you remember when you leave school is from those teachers who really gave you the confidence to believe in yourself, and everyone needs that inspiration when they leave school to think that anything is possible.”
- by Chloe Hamilton