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Chris Targett
10 February 2017

Fishcakes & Stories

Through life we collect bits and pieces of information, sometimes facts and figures but more often than not ideas and concepts embedded into our minds as stories. Our ideas as to what we can consider a career to be, a life we could lead or want to lead is often collected this way subconsciously and anecdotally; it is where we receive much of our “careers advice”. When our parents express an opinion on a particular choice or if they come home from work happy or sad, we notice and pay attention. In a way, we pick up career choices and life style goals in the same way we develop our sense of taste. If you grow up in a family where lots of fishcakes are eaten, you may find that something quite different may not be immediately to your taste or take a while to acclimatise to; as with fishcakes so to with ideas.

An idea picked up when younger can sometimes take years to mature or an instant that changes our perception of reality and possibility. Whether a passing comment from a favourite teacher such as “you’re really good at Maths” or the sight of someone taking a particular role at work or in society; these images and ideas embed into our minds and shape our identity, life path and purpose. These ideas are akin to a meme, being elements of culture and behaviour passed from one individual to another by imitation.

Listening to radio two and the Canadian Astronaut Chris Hadfield, he recounted how he watched the moon landings as a boy, shaping his desire and purpose from a young age. He talked of how he met a German Astronaut of a similar age whilst on the Russian space station years later who, was also shaped by the same life event. It made me wonder, what if he hadn’t watched the moon landings or had the chance to train to be a fast jet pilot then test pilot? It wasn’t just exposure to the idea of being an astronaut either that was so pivotal, it was also being able to access a robust education system which could develop the skills he needed, alongside him being able to develop the qualities needed to succeed in his desired role. Chance, ability and competition played their parts, yet it was that first flicker of inspiration that fuelled the fire.

So what might this mean to our students in school? It becomes important that we provide and facilitate access to inspiration wherever we can. In the knowledge that, we won’t know which idea may take root and which may not (why this the case I don’t rightly know but, I do find it fascinating and curious). Without any inspiration however, we can be assured that the chances of an inspiring idea to taking root is limited. It is very few students who are motivated by nay-sayers (and become motivated to prove them wrong) which, is why inspiration combined with reassurance and affirmations where possible are so crucial. My five year old son is currently in primary school and his teacher tells all the pupils, it is ok that they can’t do things yet, she affirms that learning takes time and they will each learn different things at different rates. She doesn’t lambast the pupils for lack of ability but, does take them out for trips to find out what the world is like. As with five year olds so it should be with fourteen, eighteen and thirty year olds!

It is vital that students have the chance and opportunity to encounter and try new things, from Music through to Engineering and Philosophy. Some students will find ways to try new things through talking to employers or attending open days, others through trying subjects in school (hence the need for a broad syllabus and option choices). It is why full careers programmes in schools are essential, covering inspiring speakers not only from work but also education, to inspire young people about Apprenticeships (of all types), Degrees and School Leaver Programmes through the stories they tell from real life. Work experience can be used to test out ideas, to see if individuals enjoy certain roles but also to figure out what they don’t like. Visits to science labs and design studios, taster events and attending open public lectures all impact and plant seeds. Meeting real people doing, showing things and believing in their work… all of these things can inspire due to their validity and congruency! Combine these activities with reading biographies and films of the successful and adventurous, students can become inspired and see what it is all for. The young lives of our students during their formative years should be bursting at the seams, encountering inspirational talks and events, from Primary through to Secondary schooling, College and University, from ALL walks of life. A recent study found that “The 7% of young adults surveyed who recalled four or more activities while at school were five times less likely to be NEET and earned, on average, 16% more than peers who recalled no such activities.”[i] If this isn’t a good reason, I don’t know what is.

Discussions at home about what is out there, talks with teachers and careers advisers can help place what is seen, heard and felt into context (helping to sift information[ii]). As explored earlier, home life can provide one of the biggest influences on students considering their futures as, the experience of elder siblings, uncles, aunts and parents provides a ready-made model of what they may consider is and isn’t possible (from seeing the work they do and ideas discussed). Careers work should therefore also engage with parents and careers to discuss not only experiences of work but also, ensure everyone is aware of the wealth of opportunities available (which may not have been available when some parents were younger) and where they fit. It is this decoding of the inspiration, where professional independent careers guidance fits and finds purpose. Taking the dream developed from the inspirational activities and charting one or more possible paths. It is the careers adviser who builds the key which, the student can take and turn in the lock to open the door with their own potential. It is something that, no other professional or employer can do to the extent the careers adviser can.

Ultimately, without inspiration and direction, all the tests and grades in the world won’t mean a thing unless there is a broader context. Not only a dream to apply the skills to but, an explanation of how one relates to the other. As parents, carers, educationalists and careers advisers, let’s show our young people the amazing breadth and depth of possibility available. Let’s inspire!

[i] http://www.educationandemployers.org/wp-content/uploads/2014/06/its_who_you_meet_final_26_06_12.pdf

[ii] http://www.outstandingcareers.co.uk/decision-making-skills-of-teenagers/

Written by: Chris Targett

This article was first published on the CXK blog on Monday 17th October 2016

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