How can our school-leavers ride the COVID-19 storm?

The headlines make pretty bleak reading: A Level exams cancelled for a second year running, a 14% increase in unemployment in young people, the worst recession in 300 years; it may feel hopeless, particularly for school leavers who face such uncertainty about their futures.

So, what can Sixth Formers be doing now to ride the COVID-19 storm?

This week I’ve started conducting Futures Interviews with all students in the Lower Sixth. Following on from their careers interviews in Fifth Form, I meet every Year 12 student to give them an opportunity to think about and begin to plan their lives after they leave the comfortable and familiar surroundings of College. But this year will be different; there are certainly going to be more questions about the possibilities of Gap Years as well as the reduction in numbers of degree apprenticeships; it’s difficult to know what summer 2022/23 will look like. What we do know is that when all this is over, universities will still be recruiting undergraduates, there will still be Gap Year projects that need volunteers and employers will still be looking for skilled, educated workers. Higher Education and Career planning doesn’t stop just because the world has temporarily paused. Encouragingly, a recent article quoted Psychologists who claim that in fact ‘Generation COVID’ could well turn out to be ‘Generation Grit’; that the very nature of having to overcome these hurdles and retain such an enormous sense of hope may well produce a tougher, more resilient and more responsible generation of young people.

There may be a lack of physical work experience opportunities this summer but there are other, less traditional, ways of finding that experience. Similarly, there might not be university open days to visit or subject taster days to try out, but both employers and universities are responding to the challenge of delivering information in this ever-changing landscape and are developing COVID-friendly virtual opportunities for young people to develop skills and gain knowledge in order to make informed decisions about their futures.

Now is a great time for them to build and future-proof their skill-set, find an online course and teach themselves Python, search for virtual work experience placements with employers they would like to know more about (an Upper Sixth tutee recently took part in a five day virtual work experience placement at St James’ Place Wealth Management and another Sixth Former has just secured a three day placement with a large IT, networking and cybersecurity company). They could complete an online course in data analytics or sign up to a MOOC (massive open online course) delivered by the University of Exeter on the science behind climate change. They can make sure their CV is up to date ready to be emailed to a prospective employer for a summer job as soon as world opens up again, talk to pharmaceutical companies about their degree apprenticeship opportunities at virtual apprenticeship fairs, chat to current undergraduates taking their course via UCAS Hub, take a university campus tour on YouTube or register for a university subject webinar on Criminology or Anthropology or Economics. There is so much out there and the very best thing about it, is that it can all be accessed directly from home.

We need to make sure that when future employers or university admissions tutors ask our children at interview what they did during lockdown, they have something impressive to tell them.

The Higher Education and Careers Bulletin is sent weekly to students in Upper College and Fifth Form.

Please see the two most recent editions via the links below:

HE and Careers Bulletin Week 1 Spring 2021

HE and Careers Bulletin Week 2 Spring 2021

Mrs Evans, Head of Higher Education and Careers