Schools must prepare students for the future of work

James Uffindell, CEO and founder of Bright Network, explains why careers guidance must start at school, especially for work in tech.

This week is National Careers Week, a great initiative that promotes the indispensable value of careers education for young people across the country. Careers guidance is something that has too often been deprioritised within our education system, and this lack of focus has created a crisis of confidence in young people.

In last year’s Bright Network graduate survey of 3000+ students, we found that 39% did not feel prepared to enter the workforce and 43% were not confident they would gain a graduate role after university.

How can it be that after over thirteen years of education, so many driven and intelligent graduates still lack confidence in their ability to become valued and sort-after employees?

Part of the answer lies in a lack of understanding about entering the workforce. When there is limited guidance for young people, it is hard to know what career is a right fit, let alone feel prepared and confident in your ability to pursue it.

The job market has undergone a dramatic transformation over the last decade, and as the digital revolution continues to gain momentum, the workforce will be required to adapt rapidly.

The evidence of this shift is everywhere. From finance and banking, to construction and engineering, advertising and media – there is not one industry that will be untouched.

It is an exciting prospect. Leading industry voice Tech London Advocates recently predicted that one million new tech jobs will be created in the capital over the next five years. This number should fill those leaving education with confidence and enthusiasm about their future.

However, research from Bright Network has found that around a third of undergraduates felt they lacked the coding skills required to gain the jobs they desired – and a quarter felt they lacked basic IT skills.

It is unacceptable our students feel so unprepared for the next steps of their lives and a solution will require a collaborative approach from schools and colleges, and the industry specialism of leading businesse.

A crucial problem is lack of awareness – often students reach their last year of university before they are even conscious this skills gap exists.

It is for this reason that career guidance and advice is just as important as technical education.

On a global scale, it is estimated 800 million jobs will disappear in the future due to AI and emerging tech. This number may appear overwhelming but it will only be problematic if we are not prepared for this dramatic shift.

Throughout history, significant changes in machinery and technologies have always caused anxieties about job security, but humans and society will always adapt and continue to excel.

As AI and automation replace menial tasks, the human element of work will become even more valuable to business. Creativity will be harnessed in ways that we cannot even predict yet – and successful career guidance will allow students to find their space in this ever-evolving world.

The reality is that good quality careers advice towards the digital economy is lacking, and this National Careers Week I am calling for a major overhaul of how we think about preparing young people for the job market.

The tech industry needs to take on a greater role in this area. They should have a vested interest in ensuring the new generation of workers are attracted to the industry and can achieve this by engaging students at school and college levels.

There are concrete steps tech leaders can take. By introducing digital skills workshops, encouraging entrepreneurial skills, and promoting commercial awareness, businesses can collaborate with schools to create a national careers advice service that sets up students for success.

We may not know exactly which jobs will be available in the future. The focus of careers advice should be on how the job market is evolving and how students can harness their strengths to become adaptable and innovative members of the workforce.

The young people rising through the educational systems have so much to offer. They want to contribute to the workforce and be involved in the disruptive and innovating companies that are making a real change in society.

It is therefore the responsibility of educators and business leaders to equip these young people with the confidence and tenacity to take their first steps into the working world and pursue their goals.