Leaving school is a huge step in any young person’s life. School leavers have an important decision to make: study further, or jump straight into work.
But what should you do?
The truth is, there’s no right or wrong answer, only what is right for you. Your long-term career goals will certainly influence the decision you make, as some industries, such as healthcare and teaching, will require you to study for additional qualifications. On the other hand, getting a job immediately can help you show future employees that you’ve got a wealth of experience in the workplace. This can make you stand out from other candidates — people who may have stayed in education but lack real work experience.
Entering the workplace
With the rising number of university places, you might be thinking that university’s the only place to go, right? Not necessarily.
The rising cost of education has put many people off, with some universities charging more than £9,000 a year. Furthermore, there’s no guarantee that graduates will be able to get a job at the end of it, with a recent study showing the majority of UK graduates are forced to apply for and take entry-level jobs, just to pay the bills.
Debt versus earnings
A 21-year-old who left school aged 18 will, ideally, still have some relevant qualifications, whether they’ve completed an apprenticeship or pursued academic qualifications (such as A-Levels). In this time, they will have also amassed a decent yearly salary. Compare this to a recent graduate, who may have little to no practical work experience, and has accumulated several thousands pounds worth of debt. What situation would you rather be in?
There’s a misconception that entry-level positions cannot provide a salary comparable to a graduate level job. While salary should not be the main factor in considering a job workplace happiness and the enjoyment of a career are vital considerations, too), there is no reason that automotive technicians, plumbers or groundworkers cannot achieve a high salary.
The success stories
We’ve all heard the stories about celebrities and business people leaving school at an early age and going on to achieve massive success. Alan Sugar, Richard Branson and former Home Secretary Alan Johnson are perfect examples of what can be achieved, despite having no qualifications under their belt.
The difference between “essential” and “desirable”
When you look at a job specification, the majority will cite certain qualifications as “desirable” only. Even if you do not possess these, it does not mean that you will not meet the criteria for the job. If you’ve got the relevant experience and can make a good impression in an interview, you’re in a much better position to be considered for the position. The majority of employers are much more likely to hire someone who can get immediately stuck in with a role, and someone who knows the industry they’re working in.
Perhaps you’re looking for a job in healthcare or law. Contrary to popular belief, these don’t always require a university degree. If you want a career in law, consider doing an apprenticeship as a legal secretary. This can lead on to a career as a paralegal. The same can be said for dentist jobs. Recruiters still benefit from having hard-working, entry-level applicants who can take on responsibilities. In most cases, you’ll be able to climb up the career ladder. Never underestimate the benefit of getting a foot in the door.
In an ideal world, the perfect candidate will possess both the practical experience and theoretical knowledge for the job. However, the ideal is not always achievable. Having a candidate with the exact match of experience is often enough to persuade an employer that they are the right applicant for the job.
Pursuing further study
If you’ve been considering going to further education, don’t panic! There are still plenty of benefits of pursuing higher education over jumping into work.
Completing a degree is a great achievement. It shows determination and the ability to manage time and learn many new things. Graduates can use this to their advantage, showing that they’re in the position to learn any new skill.
Perhaps you want to go into teaching or into a psychotherapist or doctoral job. These jobs will require accreditation, such as a PGCE, membership with the BACP or a degree in medicine, plus specialist training, respectively.
Studies have shown that graduates earn more than non-graduates, and are more likely to earn a promotion thanks to the skills they’ve learned during their degree.
Possessing a degree, especially in the humanities sector, gives you a number of transferable skills that can be used in most careers, such as communication and creativity.
Whereas most apprenticeships are vocational, meaning you’ll often learn skills applicable to one industry, a degree in English or History can take you into a variety of careers, such as teaching, marketing or management. You even have the option to study for further qualifications for other careers, which will allow you to become a fully accredited solicitor, barrister or accountant.
What if I don’t like my degree?
It might be that you choose to do a degree, but you don’t like your subject. This doesn’t mean that university isn’t the right path for you. There are plenty of options for changing your course, or you could even jump onto a different course through your university’s clearing process.
What if I want to change career?
If all you possess is A-Levels and perhaps an apprenticeship, should you wish to changing your career path later in life can be difficult,, with limited skills in other areas.
A degree allows you to demonstrate a number of so-called soft skills, which are actually very valuable to employers. These include the ability to communicate, be a leader (for example, in team projects) and take initiative. School leavers working in entry-level positions will not necessarily have the opportunity to prove or develop these skills, making a degree a much more valuable option.
It might be that you choose to change career, only for a candidate to have a degree in the subject that you only possess an A-level in. If you’ve completed an apprenticeship, it might be in a subject where the skills another person has earned from a degree are more valuable.
Enrolling in further study also gives you the opportunity to engage in extra-curricular activities. Joining a group or society not only shows your ability to work well with others, but also to engage in other activities during studying. This can be a difficult task, and one which requires you to prioritise your time and maintain a good balance. By joining a group, you might gain valuable skills such as promoting your society, writing for a monthly newsletter, or engaging the public to support a cause. These skills show passion and determination, which are skills that employers appreciate.
Ultimately, there are advantages and disadvantages to jumping straight into work or opting for further study. The decision you make will depend on your long-term career goals, whether you’re interested in a medical job or a retail position. Only by considering which option will benefit you the most, and whether you value work experience over qualifications, will you have the information to make the right choice.
Author Bio: Ron Stewart has worked in the recruitment industry for 30 years, having owned companies in the IT, Construction and Medical sectors. His current project is Jobs4Medical, helping medical staff and recruiters in both the UK and abroad.