You would have to have a heard to stone not to feel sorry for young people this year. They have lost their summer, a big chunk of their education, their ability to move about freely and, now, an accurate assessment of their academic achievements for those who were supposed to take exams this year.
Regardless of the ins and outs of the notorious algorithm and the teacher assessments, it is clear that we now have a generation of children who can never be confident that their results will be taken seriously, who are having to make last minute changes to their further education plans whilst staring into a very bleak careers future.
With four children, two of whom are still at school, I am only too well aware of how stressful the whole process of exams can be. Some youngsters take it all in their stride, whilst others fall apart but no one can have found the 2020 cycle easy and it is hard to know whether 2021 will be any different.
But even without COVID, there are plenty of people out there whose school and further education careers bear little relation to the roles they are now in and I think we need to keep that at the forefront of our minds. I have plenty of highly successful friends and colleagues with barely an A Level between them, whilst a number of the high flyers I knew at university have somehow failed to live up to their potential.
For many young people today, the chance to learn on the job is their best bet for demonstrating their worth to employers but of course jobs are few and far between. We have an intern working with us this summer and, whilst I can’t claim that her 8 weeks with us is going to set her up with a life-changing career, I do know that she is gaining useful experience, learning to think in different ways, getting used to working with a range of people on a range of tasks and enhancing her CV.
I know that many of you are under your own pressures to cut overheads and reduce staff but I am hopeful that at least some young people will get an opportunity to demonstrate their worth and explore their – as yet – untested potential. If we give the next generation a chance to understand what their working lives might look like, we at least help them to target their efforts effectively, whilst showing them how they can take their own measures to hone their skills.
Even if you can’t help with paid employment, I would urge you to think about how you could share your experience and contacts with young people interested in your field. Can you or your firm offer a careers advice session via video link? Can you mentor someone? Do you have advice about online resources or training that could give someone the edge?
Let’s forget about exam results and academic qualifications for now and look at the drive and ambition of those people standing at the foot of the ladder. I reckon we could find a wealth of innovation, enthusiasm and fresh thinking waiting for us, eager, keen and ready to go.