I'm worried. In November I spent five days at two of the biggest skills show events in the UK, chatting to students, teachers, tutors, careers advisors and parents about career opportunities in IBM. For three days in Birmingham at The Skills Show, and another two in London at Skills London I talked to countless folk about options available to them. "What do you think you would you like to do after school?" was a standard question I asked. "Don't know!" was the standard reply. And that was just the parents....ok, maybe not. The thing was, there were so many young people who really weren't sure what they might do. It's not them I'm worried about though. At least they were taking the time to come along to the skills shows and find out about options.
The people I'm worried about are the tens of thousands of students and parents, teachers and tutors who weren't able to get along to the skills shows. They haven't seen the myriad of opportunities available and may not be aware that studying music, geography and economics is no inhibitor to pursuing a technical career path. Or that it's possible to gain industry recognised experience along with professional and personal skills development all whilst earning a salary.
At the Skills Shows our own IBM apprentices were there, meeting the public and relating tales of real responsibility they have after only a relatively short time with the company. The apprentices are leading technical projects and managing global teams in delivery of critical services. The best representatives of apprentice schemes are more often than not the apprentices themselves. But if you're not there, you wouldn't know that.
I had a wander around as well. There are so many terrific opportunities open to school and college leavers now. Apart from my own industry of Information and Communications Technology (ICT), there were fabulous showcases for jewellery, fashion, retail, paramedic, engineering (mechanical and electronic), armed services, hospitality, catering, banking, financial services, consulting and law. There is so much choice it's mind boggling, and perhaps hardly surprising that some students still don't know what they want to do. However once you chat to representatives from these organisations it's clear there are some well-structured development programmes which offer a balance between real-world working experience combined with professional development courses.
An apprentice is no longer someone who makes the tea, or who hands the mechanic a monkey wrench. The young professionals in IBM Apprenticeships certainly have real responsibility and make a proper difference to our most important clients.
Options are perhaps not quite limitless but you are no longer confined to a handful of career paths through an Apprenticeship. It is no longer a choice between black gowned, mortar boarded academia or blue collar, callous handed, boiler suited grease monkeys. You can complete a degree through an Apprenticeship, working in industries as diverse as IT or construction, beauty or Law. There are real careers to be developed, professional skills to be learned and future business (or even country) leaders to be nurtured.
The technical ICT path is not simply a path for 'IT Geeks' - it offers technical training that can lead young people into project management, technical marketing and sales, as well as software development, delivery and problem solving. Sometimes you have to dare to be a little bit different; sometimes you don't need to follow the same path as everyone else in your peer group. There are choices to be made - lots of them. The best made choices are informed with insight into what is and what might be. There is lots of help available and advice to be given, but only if you know about it and only if you bother to look. If you don't, well.....that's a worry.
The Skills Show aims to inspire and transform young people's lives through a series of interactive events held across the UK, changing the way we think about skills, training and Apprenticeships. The national show, the UK's largest skills and careers event, is held at the NEC Birmingham. In 2014 the national show will take place between 13- 15 November 2014. Visit www.theskillsshow.com for more information.