Can attending a career talk at school really make a difference to your GCSE grades?

“The simple answer is yes; we believe they do. And taking part in careers events can also help navigate the complicated and ever-changing world of work.”

Dr Elnaz Kashefpakdel, Head of Research at Education and Employers and guest writer of this blog post.

I have been researching in this field for eight years and our various studies have proved that career-related activities can make a positive difference to young people’s future. I just wish I had known more about this when I was at school.

Using a robust methodology our new research shows that by attending three extra career talks in year 11, students achieved a modest improvement in their GCSE grades that summer. We also found that those who attended extra career talks with external speakers became motivated to study harder. And we think, although it needs more testing, it is because they can link what they are taught in class with their future career.

The volunteers who gave career talks highlighted to the students the relevance of the subjects they are currently studying and why working as hard as you can is a good idea. We know from previous research that students really value these authentic experiences and find them motivational.

What do we mean by career-related activities and events?

Here are some examples:

  • Careers Fairs
  • Assembly talks with guest speakers
  • CV workshops
  • Mock interviews
  • Subject talks – where volunteers show how they use a particular subject in their job
  • Work experience
  • Workplace visits
  • Mentoring (either virtually or in person)
  • Volunteering
  • Enterprise competitions

Basically, anything that provides you with interactions with adults from the world of work.

What has other research shown us?

  1. More is more. What I mean by this is, the more career-related events you attend when you are at school the more you will see the benefit.
  2. We have shown that if you have more than 4 encounters with the world of work via a range of activities you are less likely to be unemployed as a young adult and that you will earn more when you join the workforce.
  3. When you meet a range of different people, we know that this experience widens your horizons and perhaps challenges how you viewed certain professions. It can change or confirm what you think you can and can’t do in your future.
  4. Engaging with the volunteers from the world of work in different activities can help you develop some basic skills such as confidence and self-belief – and that is very important as you move forward to either further study or into a job.

What would my advice be to my younger self?

It may seem that career talks are a bit of a bore. You may think that there is no one there whose job you are interested in or you can relate to. But I know, based on my research, that kind of view will limit your aspiration. Everyone has a story to tell, everyone can provide some piece of worthwhile and authentic information; and this will open your mind to a wealth of possibilities. You might also meet someone from the professional world who can help you after you leave education. We call this social capital. Having access to a network of people is an invaluable asset in the 21st century job market. It’s all about who we meet. It’s often said that “You can’t be what you can’t see”.

Teachers have often fed back to us that those students who really embraced all their career-related events really did benefit from them.  So, it might be outside of your comfort zone; it may not seem a priority at the time especially with the emphasis on exam results and learning the curriculum but, believe me, it can make all the difference to you, your motivation and achieving your goals!

I love this quote by Sir Dominic Cadbury, ‘There’s no such thing as a career path, it’s crazy paving and you have to lay it yourself’ – by hearing from people who have already gone through the system and paved that path to some extent you can make more informed choices about your own.