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Katie Pepper looks back on her career choices

The shoe shop sketch: Victoria Wood and Julie Walters

When I was little I wanted to be a shoe shop lady. I liked the handheld machine to measure feet and I thought the sales assistant seemed nice. That pretty much was the basis for my career aspiration.

Then when I started school, I wanted to be an actress. This ambition pretty much stuck with me until I enrolled on a Drama degree and realised that I wasn’t prepared to take the risk of a lifetime of rejection and so started focusing my efforts on stage management, which led into event management and finally PR.

In all honesty, I should have changed degree courses after my first term. I didn’t really enjoy my course and stuck with it mainly so as not to disappoint my parents and probably myself – admitting a dream I’d had since I was five years old was no longer viable was a tough pill to swallow.

So following the news agenda this week – the higher education White Paper and research commissioned by the Education and Employers charity revealing that giving teenage students careers talks could add up to £2,000 on to their salaries by the time they reach their mid-twenties – got me thinking that perhaps good careers advice would have led me down a different path?

We’re currently working with careers guidance company U-Explore which is striving to improve careers education for young people. Its new product Start is designed to help young people connect ideas, interests and aspirations to jobs and educational pathways. At the heart of the Start software is a job bank which includes more than 1,600 jobs providing detailed information on the qualifications required, typical salaries and the user’s own suitability for the role. Linked to this is live market information, showing open opportunities in the student’s locality, enabling young people to get a real indication of the current labour market and job availability. What’s more, it’s free!

As the name suggests, Start enables a young person to begin anywhere; a favourite subject; an area of interest; a place to study; or a job aspiration. Users create a personal profile based on their qualities, skills and work preferences and the unique profiling technology matches them to jobs which correspond to their personality.

Whilst I’m a big advocate of studying something you are passionate about, indeed this was my argument when my parents (both careers advisors) queried the ‘future’ I would have with a drama degree, so many graduates are finishing university with no idea of what they want to do, loaded with debt, whilst key industries are screaming out for specialist skills and expertise. In 2014, the UK Commission for Employment and Skills set out 40 jobs of the future ranging from aircraft pilot to web designer and biochemist to pipe fitter, yet often because careers education is not consistent, young people do not know about the opportunities that these jobs offer, or that they even exist.

So much has been written about the skills gap we’re facing, something has to be done to ensure our next generation is equipped to support the growth of our economy. Engaging with young people and making careers advice relevant to 14 and 15 year olds is vital and something we have to prioritise both in school and at home.

Tristram Hooley, Professor of Career Education and Head of iCeGS at Derby University who has just published a White Paper on the potential impact of Start said: “Young people need to actively manage their careers if they are going to get the most out of life. Start is an exciting new tool which can help young people to make better choices about qualifications while they are at school and to build the skills that they need for their post-school lives.

“One of the key advantages that Start offers schools is that it can provide them with information about the way students are engaging with their careers. This can help them to improve their career guidance programmes and potentially provide information that may inform the development of the whole local education and employment system.”

Would using Start have changed my career path? Maybe not, I was pretty passionate about drama, but it’s likely my preference for the stage would have matched me with more secure career opportunities and potentially opened up other avenues a lot quicker than I could have found by ‘trying’ different things. And that extra £2,000 would have come in useful too.