When it comes to post 16 options, many school leavers struggle to try to decide what to do next. There is a lot of positive propaganda surrounding the many options, and it can be difficult to discern which is right for you. With few exceptions, the majority of school leavers will opt for one of four directions in their career; getting a job straight out of school, scoring an apprenticeship, going to a university or becoming an entrepreneur or freelancer.
Each of these choices has a specific set of positives and drawbacks, but the best way to find YOUR path is not by comparing pros and cons but by examining your competencies, skills, and motivations BEFORE you list the pros and cons. It is interesting to note that many successful entrepreneurs began as clueless students. I know a successful freelancer who got a job right out of school and laboured for years before realising that he wasn’t good “employee” material.
Regardless of which path you ultimately end up taking, here are four key elements you need to consider when making your decision:
- Am I academically inclined? Do I hate school and/or studying? Does another three or four years of textbooks and lectures sound like a dream or a nightmare?
- What is my motivation? Is it money? Family expectations? Prestige?
- Do I have a definite goal? Do I want to be CEO? Do I want to have enough time to devote to outside interest? Do I have a business idea?
- Do I have access to the finances to support my preferred option?
Taking an apprenticeship is a great way to learn hands-on skills in a real world setting. You will be paid while you learn, and most apprenticeships require little if any formal study to master the skills successfully. However, the wages of an apprentice usually start at or below the minimum wage, and you are not guaranteed employment at the end of your apprenticeship. There are some professions where apprenticeship simply do not make sense and other where they do. Most tradesmen got their start as apprentices. A few examples are plumbers, electricians, barbers, and event managers, and carpenters. Remember, there are different levels of apprenticeships, some requiring you to have A-levels, so don’t think your classroom days are over if you choose this route. Also, a job at the end of the apprenticeship is not guaranteed.
The advantages of a university education are numerous. They include higher earning potential over your workig life, entry into numerous professions, and prestige. However, getting a university degree requires a great deal of commitment. You will have to defer the benefits of all of your hard work for four, five, or six years. You are now likely to graduate with a student debt that you will servicein your early years. Also, the sad truth is that half of all graduates do not go on to fill graduate rolls. A degree does not guarantee employment.
We all know stories of people who started working in the mailroom and worked their way up to a senior position at work. Unfortunately this is increasingly less likely and if it happens it is only after many years of hard work and sacrifice. The truth is that learning on the job has its’ advantages, including earning some money right away, establishing tenure and learning in a real world environment. But, the truth is that you will have to go back to studying at some point if you want to advance. There is nothing wrong with joining the workforce right away while you figure out what you want to do with your life. But recognise that most jobs that are open to you are the low-pay entry level positions.
Working for somebody else is not the only way to go. Many young people are disillusioned by their understanding of the current corporatist culture and are looking for better ways to balance work and life. Many are turning to freelancing and entrepreneurship to participate in an economy that allows them to work and live in a way that suits them. There are numerous examples of young people who bought and sold their first property at 18, who learned to code and build websites at 14 or 15, or who built a series of small boutique businesses throughout their late teens and early twenties.
The downside is that this path has no security. You will need to put in the effort to constantly update your skills, file your taxes, and arrange your retirement plan. While the use of technology has significantly lowered the barriers to entry into many fields, you will still have to figure out how to live during the initial lean years of your business. You may also need access to seed money. If you can live at home and work part-time while you build your business it maybe possible to build a successful career as an entrepreneur. Be prepared for many failures before you finally succeed.
Nothing worth doing is ever achieved easily. Whatever your aspirations, the road will be bumpy and full of setbacks. It’s perfectly normal to change direction, make different choices, or feel confused. At Alexander Partners we help young people understand themselves and their motivations so that they are equipped to make the decisions that speak to their passions and take advantage of their strengths. With a little guidance and realistic expectations you will be able to make the decision that is best for you.