I had the great pleasure recently of visiting two former Apprentices who I helped recruit into jobs about 18 years ago when they were school leavers.  Now in their 30s, both are married with young children (way to make me feel old!).  What is particularly pleasing is that both are still with the employer they trained with, both have Degrees, and both have reached influential management positions.  If their teachers could only see them now, I’m sure they would be as chuffed as I felt for them!

A topic that popped up more than once during our conversation was how little they had learnt about Apprenticeships at school.  Both were bright lads and scored very well in their GCSEs, so were regularly pushed towards college and A Levels by teachers at school.  But both knew that they were drawn to careers in engineering and had family members encouraging them to consider good quality apprenticeships.  Both agree that the Apprenticeship had been the right thing for them then and that they wouldn’t be where they are now without it.

It got me thinking (again) about careers advice at school and what the right ‘formula’ should be to make sure young people are given not only the right advice for them but also advice that reflects labour market needs.  So, using some rough calculations based on Office of National Statistics employment data, here’s how it works out.

If you had a year group of (let’s make this easy) 200 pupils, how many do we need to go into each employment sector to at least maintain current patterns?  Here are the numbers (all rounded to avoid halving any pupils!).

27/200 – Top of the sectors, 27 of your year group will go into health or social care related jobs.  That’s everything from GPs to pharmacists, opticians to hospital porters, and midwives to care home staff. The pandemic has thrown their work into sharp focus and the need is greater than ever.

24/200 – an incredible 24 of the group will go into occupations related to motor vehicles, so everything from car sales to MOT engineers to electric car specialists. 

21/200 – we’ll need 21 of them to forge careers in education, from pre-school classroom assistants to university lecturers, and everything in between.

18/200 – they say Britain doesn’t make anything anymore but the fourth highest employment sector is manufacturing.  Today, of course, manufacturing requires electronics, robotics, logistics, scheduling, warehousing, IT and much more, so we’re talking more skilled machine operators than manual assembly roles.

16/200 – this category (based on standard industry classifications) is a bit woolly but 16 pupils will need to go into professional scientific and technical roles (in both the public and private sectors). We need more scientists!

14/200 – 14 of the year group will need to go into Construction industry roles.  Not just the ‘hard hat’ skilled trades (which we are short of already) but the white collar engineering, surveying and project management roles too.

14/200 – A further 14 will go into public roles including the defence services and armed forces, public administration (including Council employees) and social security staff.

9/200 will go into each of the following four sectors: general administration or support roles, in a range of settings; accommodation and food, including hospitality sector roles; transport and storage sector, logistics, warehousing and so on; and, finally, into the information and communications arenas, including telecoms, website, creative media etc.

8/200 pupils will be needed by our finance and insurance employers; from call centre staff to bank managers, to mortgage advisors and stockbrokers, to claims investigators and financial advisors.

3/200 will be needed to work in essential big infrastructure services like energy generation and supply, water treatment and supply, and mining. Again, a range of roles from ‘on the tools’ to practically keep these systems running, to planning and management positions.

2/200 will go into real estate related jobs.

Another 2/200 will go into agriculture, forestry and fishery roles.

And, for those doing the maths as we go, that leaves a final 15/200 who will go into roles not classified above and – potentially – roles not even classified yet. (And we haven’t even mentioned professional sports people or rock stars!)

Interesting reading, isn’t it?  I’m not advocating that we get our Year 11’s lined up in the hall and allocate them a sector based purely on the numbers (although it might be an interesting exercise for them to map their ambitions against the reality of employment sectors).  However, I think there are two key points to take away from this.

The first must be around managing expectations. If 30 of your 200 pupils all want advice on becoming beauticians or hairdressers, there is surely a conversation to be had about the employment opportunities on offer. Perhaps the same caring skills and interest in aesthetics could be channelled towards social care, creative media or hospitality roles instead?

The second needs to be around understanding that a career is a journey not a destination.  My two former apprentices are a good case in point; if they had said to their careers teachers that they wanted to be business managers, no doubt they would have been advised to go to college then university.  As they are both business managers in engineering, in fact they couldn’t have got where they are without having served their Apprenticeships first.  Careers advice needs to get better at seeing long view ‘routes through’ and not just imaging that graduates pop-out of university as fully-formed employees or managers.