Posted by

Ayla Uzunhasan

01 Aug 2013

At the age of 16 and in my final year at secondary school, I could have been described as vulnerable and a little confused. Unaware of what was going to be the next stage of my life, with no guidance and no help to make decisions that would determine my career path. I worked hard, went to college and studied Media Print (which was effectively ‘writing for media’). I enjoyed English and enjoyed writing, so it was the perfect course and I was lucky enough to love the two years I was there. Once I’d passed, my teachers told me that I had to go to university. They told me I would do really well and it would be the best thing for me. I agreed and decided to do Journalism, and in fact got into my first choice university. I was over the moon, but deep down I didn’t know why. I hadn’t thought about other options; I was unsure of the course, unaware of what jobs would be available to me as a graduate – and I was having very big doubts as to whether university would be for me.

I didn’t go.

Instead, I stayed in my part-time retail job, but through determination and research I managed to figure out what my next step would be. I continued writing, volunteering for a local newspaper and entering writing competitions. I disliked my job and the fact I was approaching nearly three years there, so I decided to put pressure on myself to leave.  I made mistakes, but if I hadn’t had the strength to look for something that suited me, I would probably still be working in a job I loathed. What gave me the willpower to find a suitable apprenticeship was not influenced by teachers, my parents or my friends but my own self-motivation. It wasn’t easy either. It took two years of searching and applying to find the right role.

Some people are not like me however. Some need advice, guidance and that little bit of help to get them on the right path.

While at school, I was probably given the worst advice: ‘Don’t work in McDonalds and do something with your life’. At the time, being young we all laughed and joked that it would never happen. But the fact of the matter now is, that if you worked in McDonalds then you are actually lucky to even have that job. The perceptions I had of what were good and bad jobs were all influenced by my school. The lack of communication, resources and advisors didn’t allow for us be clued up on careers. We were aware of the obvious – doctor, teacher, hairdresser etc. But what other options were there? I had decided I should become a journalist because I like writing, but that’s because, as far as I knew, there weren’t any other choices. A fair amount of my classmates also decided on their ultimate career without enough knowledge, but so far many have failed to even come close to achieving it. 

I believe the advice that we received from teachers us an incomplete idea of the working world, failed to mention how hard it would be and didn’t educate us properly on what we had to do to get a good job. At the age of 20, I am now much more aware. Work experience placements, apprenticeships, voluntary work – all are great ways of building your skills. I, however, had to work that out myself.

The BCC acknowledges these problems and Chambers of Commerce help by holding events at local schools, explaining what working life is like, giving advice on interview techniques, helping pupils find work experience and allowing local businesses to come in and run workshops. All are highly effective methods of assisting young people to be prepared for work, as well as giving them a better idea of what options are out there. Not only do Chambers help with schools, they also work with the young unemployed people who have left school and are unsure as to what they can do next.

Although qualifications are important, employers often look for other attributes that stand out: experience, applicable skills and the right attitude are three things that make a candidate more desirable. It’s easier to display the other traits but hard to demonstrate experience when you don’t have any. But this is where career advisors should step in and teach young people how to sell themselves and show that we’re worth employing.

At the British Chambers of Commerce, I work as a Social Media Apprentice. Having been here a month, not only have I learnt so much already but I have also had so much involvement in the organisation itself. While gaining great experience doing my job, I am also studying a digital media course and am able to spend time at work completing my course modules. My college course offers e-learning material and modules on different subjects, allowing me to expand my knowledge and learn completely new things to enhance my skills at work. Already I feel like a valued member of staff, and having held no previous work experience within an office environment – it’s amazing that I have been given an opportunity like this. 

The British Chambers of Commerce is a great supporter of schemes that help young people gain a future, but I wonder if we all had greater access to careers advisors and workshops at schools, which give us a clearer idea of what options are available, whether more people would study harder, find a job that they actually wanted to do and achieve their goals?