James Walsh, Steps to Work CEO

As we approach September 2016 I cant help but feel that many young people could do with some honest advice when it comes to making a crucial decision between getting a job or staying on in further education. 

At Steps to Work we pride ourselves on being supportive and providing people with a level of information advice and guidance which best reflects their needs.

My own personal take on this come from our own family experience with our eldest son Philip which started back in 2011. 

Philip had completed his GSCES and chose to stay on to do A levels which suited his ambition to become an Architect.  During his first year of 6th form it was clear he wasn’t happy but he was very nervous about discussing his next steps with us.

We sat down and had a family heart to heart in which he told us that he no longer wanted to go to university or be an architect. We were a little shocked and surprised by this but we told him it was fine and that we would help him figure it all out.

He gave really valid reasons for not continuing in higher education, they were:

  • He wanted to be seen as an adult who is making a contribution independently
  • He wanted to earn his way in life and gain real employment experience and skills
  • He didn’t want to saddle us with huge costs or himself with a massive debt
  • He had fallen out of love with further education and the classroom environment

So we made a deal with Philip, to study hard and finish his A levels whilst we helped him find the very best apprenticeship available.  I should say at this point Philip is very talented in Maths and ICT and he harboured aspirations of using his skills in the gaming sector to become a coder / programmer.  So began so began his quest to find the best type of ICT apprenticeships in this sector.

Sadly when Philip told his 6th Form tutor he wasn’t going onto University we were massively disappointed by the fact that any support or interest in him vanished.  We all felt like it was a case of “No UCAS Application …. No Likey” !

I received an email for the skills show at the NEC and we decided to as we agreed it was the best way to get a view of what a modern apprenticeship was and what was available.  The show was huge and many organisations had great advice to give, this was particularly the case on the Jaguar Land Rover stand where Philip met other apprentices who had been where he was aged 17.

We discussed his ambitions to be a coder and programmer and spoke openly to people who worked in the gaming industry. Together we decided that his skills could be transferred to many industries and having been impressed by the JLR apprentices at the Skills show Philip decided that he would apply for the JLR Higher Apprenticeship Programme, which offers a 6 year apprenticeship in modern manufacturing and a fully funded degree in applied engineering.

Philip applied, completed the online tests and secured a place at the assessment day.  In May 2013 he was offered a place starting in early September 2013. Having secured the desired A level results in June 2013 he was off and running.  Philip still wanted to work as a coder and programmer and had set his sights on a role in Computer Aided Design.

In his first few months JLR assessed his skills and offered him a role in Vehicle Control and Automated Testing Systems which meant he could use his ICT and Maths skills every day within a specialised team in Castle Bromwich.

Three years on and Philip is in his element. He couldn’t be any happier. He is earning a great wage and has commenced his fully funded degree.  Critically Philip is benefitting from working with highly skilled and experienced workforce and has shared his experience with many friends and school students at careers events and in the media.

The sad fact is that many schools are not measured on student’s progression into an apprenticeship in the same way as they are in securing University places.  We need to fix this by highlighting the alternative routes such as apprenticeships.

Philips advice to a young adult who may find themselves in a similar position is

“Talk to your parents and ask them for support and advice, It’s ok not to change your mind and decide that University may not be right for you. There are other options out there, an apprenticeships is just one of them".