So, this is one of the views I was enjoying a couple of weeks ago, on my idyllic and much-needed trip to Greece. I have to confess that I spent just over a fortnight reading (non-educational) books; jumping in the sea; lying on various beaches; driving a boat; diving off a boat; stand-up paddling and drinking a few cocktails. Apart from a mildly painful encounter with a jellyfish whilst out in open water, it was a wonderful trip and a reminder that whilst I love my work, I also love: ice cream; sunshine; sleeping; the sea; swimming; frappes; cheese; oh and I remembered that my husband is actually really lovely too when we’ve got time to talk to each other!
As I think a lot of people do whilst on holiday, we got into a bit of a daily routine. Part of this was to end up each afternoon, after wherever we’d been that day and before going back to our apartment to change, at a little roof top bar overlooking the harbour. It was here that we met a very upbeat young Greek girl who told us that she was home for the summer, from university where she is studying Biology. She’s working there in the bar and the restaurant attached. She was incredibly good at her job: extremely personable, extremely efficient and working noticeably harder than all of her fellow young waiters.
We asked her what she wanted to do after university and she replied that she didn’t know yet because there are so many possibilities. Then we asked her why she was working in the bar/restaurant and as well as saying that she needed the money, she said that she thought it would enhance her skills and make her more employable. Wow. As you can imagine, as two people who do quite a bit of interviewing as part of our professions, this impressed us. It’s also what we’re always saying to our 19 year old son and what I always used to say to sixth formers….employers want employees who are enthusiastic, personable and have a strong work ethic. Apart from the obvious vocations, in most roles, you can learn the rest. Being able to demonstrate that you have had vocational experience of any sort is always an advantage in my opinion. It shows that you have those qualities.
Personally, I loved my holiday jobs as a student. I worked every holiday during my 4 years at university. My jobs were: clothes shop assistant; petrol station attendant (night shift); bar worker; cleaner; factory worker. Some of those jobs I enjoyed more than others but I always enjoyed the sense of independence working gave me. And I’m really proud to be able to say that after the age of 15, my parents gave me nothing apart from food and a roof over my head during the holidays. I moved out at age 18 and never went back permanently. After my ‘A’ levels, I travelled (by coach!) from Oldham to Cap-Ferret in the South of France, with my best friend on a ticket that cost us £100 each! We lived on bread and cheese for 6 weeks and slept in a play tent I had nicked from my brother! But boy did we have a fantastic time. I saved up for that ticket and my spending money by teaching guitar lessons in my mum’s front room and by busking in local shopping centres, with my younger brother as a body guard!
By the time I went to uni, my parents were divorced and I qualified for a full grant; all my tuition was paid for and I took all the student loans. By the way, only now my own son is at university do I appreciate how lucky I was and worry a lot about those young people from lower income families who simply can’t afford to go to uni unless they get work as well.
Having said that, university is definitely not for everyone. I am a strong advocate for apprenticeships and I also believe that many young people go to to university because they don’t know what else to do then end up with a degree that is no use to them.
When I worked in Sixth Forms, we spent a lot of time going into other high schools, talking to year 9 and 10 pupils about higher education and trying to convince them to come to our sixth form. But is Year 9 early enough? More and more primary schools are realising that children need to be made aware of their educational possibilities at this much younger age. And-they need to know that university is only one option. The world of work can be an exciting one so how are we opening up this world to our primary age pupils?
As I’ve written about many times before, we are teaching the children in our Trust about character traits through our new Character Curriculum, skilling them up so that they can adapt to change and cope with the myriad of challenges that life will undoubtedly throw at them. But in September, we are going to start to tap into the expertise provided by our sponsor in a much bigger way. Our sponsor is Bury College, one of the largest further and higher educational colleges in the country. They have exceptional facilities and we have access to their support as members of our Trust.
So-we are going to be developing a programme of visits and activities which open up this world to the children in our Trust. We want them and their parents to begin to feel informed about their future choices. But more than this, we want the College to begin to have a much more integrated role within our Trust because it’s something very unique. We already have a number of young people from the college volunteering and completing voc ed placements and apprenticeships in our schools but we want to make their role much more high profile. Another advantage of this is teaching our children the value of a strong work ethic, something that for me, goes way above and beyond any other skill an employee can have. I would much rather have someone on my team who is willing to work hard and listen to (and act upon) constructive feedback, than someone who may be well qualified, but who is unwilling to adapt, work as a team, and learn new ways of doing things.
So-whilst I get used to the summer rain again, I’m thinking of my lovely Greek holiday and that hard-working lass who is probably waiting tables with a smile right now. With her work ethic and experience of the world of work, I suspect she will have the world at her feet whatever she chooses to do with her Biology degree.