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A Day in the Life of a School Careers Adviser

During 2023 we will continue our series featuring articles that focus on a ‘day in the life’ of people working in a variety of services and organisations across Ayrshire, whose dedication and efforts are key to reducing reoffending and improving outcomes for people in contact with the justice system and the wider community who are impacted by justice issues.

We would like to thank Gordon for sharing his story with us.

Skills Development Scotland

Skills Development Scotland is the national body responsible for promoting the development of workplace skills in Scotland.  Their policies and various training initiatives have a direct impact both on crime prevention and breaking the cycle of reoffending.

Skills Development Scotland are a statutory partner to community justice through the Community Justice (Scotland) Act 2016 and are represented on the Community Justice Ayrshire Partnership Board.

Gordon is a Careers Adviser with Skills Development Scotland in South Ayrshire and works primarily in a secondary school in the area, supporting pupils to develop a greater awareness of their Career Management Skills throughout their time at school, and ensuring that the paths they take after leaving school allow them to use their skills and qualities in a way that is appropriate for them.

As a school Careers Adviser, Gordon works very closely with school staff and other partners to ensure pupils are getting the level of career guidance support they require. This can be done in a variety of ways including 1:1 engagement, group work and Team Around The Child meetings with relevant partners.

Some pupils are identified as needing enhanced support for a variety of reasons. All SDS Careers Advisers are trained in Trauma Informed Practice. As a helping profession, Careers Advisers must be aware of how trauma can impact on service users and importantly how this may affect career decision making readiness.  Careers Advisers also have a significant role in potentially supporting trauma recovery.  The service is focused on the future and can provide hope, empowerment and ongoing support helping individuals make future positive change which itself can make a lasting impact on the recovery from trauma.

Did you always want to be a Careers Adviser?

To be perfectly honest…No! It took me a while to work out that this was what I wanted to do. I left school without a clear idea of what to do next, and, after doing a degree in English and Film & Media Studies, I spent several years working in jobs which, I felt, were not right for me, and that I did not enjoy. I knew that I enjoyed helping others, and, having not really enjoyed very much about the jobs that I’d had up to that point, I decided that what I really wanted to do was to help other people to realise their potential, and to find the correct career for them.  Therefore, hopefully helping them avoid having the same experience that I’d had!

After returning to university and completing a Postgraduate Diploma in Career Guidance and Development, I first worked in an Employability role for a third sector organisation in East Ayrshire, before becoming a Careers Adviser with Skills Development Scotland, first in Renfrewshire and now in South Ayrshire.

I remember my school had a Careers Adviser, but I’m not sure what they actually do.

At the moment, I’m based in a secondary school in South Ayrshire, and I spend most of my working week in there, but a lot of my colleagues work with people who have left school – Skills Development Scotland provide an all-ages Career Guidance service, which is open to everyone.   Personally, I really like working in a school, as it’s great to be able to help the pupils develop a greater sense of what we at Skills Development Scotland call their Career Management Skills, throughout their time at school.

The school day starts at 8.45am, and I try to be in my office in the school at least 15-20 minutes before then. I always have at least most of my working day planned in advance – if I have appointments booked to see pupils later that day, I usually go to their registration classes at the start of the school day, to give them appointment slips – that way, I know for sure whether the pupils in question are in school that day!  If some of the pupils in question are NOT in school that day, I sometimes try and fill their appointment times with other pupils; either who I know are due a meeting with me, or who teachers at the school (usually the Guidance Teachers or the school’s Senior Management Team) have asked me to make a point of speaking to.

Probably most of my day is spent meeting with pupils on a one-to-one basis and discussing their plans for the future.  This involves talking to pupils about whether specific jobs would be right for them, or about routes and pathways that they can take in order to be able to do specific jobs in the future, or simply trying to build up the pupils’ awareness of the different options that are available to them in the future, both in terms of the jobs that exist and what is required in order to be able to do them.

At certain points in the year, I also do other things – which might include going into PSE classes to deliver Groupwork sessions related to careers. Seeing pupils who are picking subjects for the next school year and making sure that these are suitable for what they want to do in the future or supporting pupils who are applying to university or college and helping them to make the right decisions on where to apply.

The level and amount of support that pupils receive from their school Careers Adviser changes throughout their time at secondary school; I see pupils more from S4 onwards than I do before they reach that age, but I do have a lot of interaction with younger pupils too.

“I’m the sort of person who gets a lot of satisfaction from being able to provide help to others in my job”

What do you like about being a Careers Adviser?

I would say that I like it because it’s a very varied job. The pupils with whom I work are all individuals, with their own unique thoughts, feelings, and personalities, and what’s right for one young person in terms of a career goal might be completely inappropriate for another young person. I feel that it’s my job to work with the pupils to help them plan and identify what they want to do after leaving school, and the correct, individual way for them to make that happen.

In addition, as I mentioned earlier, I enjoy helping others (in my experience, all Careers Advisers do – it’s one of the reasons we get into this line of work!), and I’m the sort of person who gets a lot of satisfaction from being able to provide help to others in my job.  Which, I’m delighted to say, being a Careers Adviser with Skills Development Scotland allows me to do!

Having had jobs, you didn’t like when you were younger, do you wish you had become a Careers Adviser earlier than you did?

Yes and no, I think.

Obviously, I would have preferred not to spend so long doing jobs that I didn’t enjoy, but, in a way, I think that experience has made me a better Careers Adviser, if that makes sense?

Having not known what was right for me when I was younger has, I think, encouraged me to provide the support that I didn’t seek out when I was young, and that I wish I had!  Although, just because that’s right for me doesn’t mean it’s right for everyone – as we tell people we are working with, there’s no such thing as a “wrong path” into a particular job, just a path that’s right for you.

“Whatever happens, we’re there to help people make a positive change in their lives, and if we focus on that, and focus on the best ways to do that for different people, we’ll be able to help them”

What advice would you give people who are interested in becoming a Careers Adviser?

Firstly, you’re not always going to deal with all of someone’s issues in one meeting. That was something that I learned early on – at first, I always tried to sort everything out for pupils with whom I was working in the space of one meeting, and it doesn’t work that way. There’s absolutely nothing wrong with arranging to see someone again later, to follow up on something you’ve already discussed and quite often, it’s much better for the person if you do this.

Secondly, it’s important to make sure your knowledge of the Labour Market is up-to-date and accurate; by that, I mean knowing what jobs are available, and what employers in particular sectors are looking for from people interested in working for them. Some of the pupils who leave school at the end of S6 may end up doing jobs that didn’t exist (or, at least, weren’t particularly well-known) when they started S1, so it’s essential that Careers Advisers maintain a knowledge of what is available for school leavers.

Thirdly, and not wishing to be negative, but not everything will go the way you want it to, and it’s important to have a back-up plan, and to learn from things if appropriate. Sometimes, if you’re delivering a Groupwork session in school, the pupils might not engage with it; sometimes, the pupil with whom you’ve been working won’t get into the job, or course, that they wanted to do; sometimes, some external factor in a pupil’s life will have an effect that you as a Careers Adviser can’t do anything about.

Like I say, if something like this happens, it’s important to have a back-up plan, and to try not to be too disheartened by it. Whatever happens, we’re there to help people make a positive change in their lives, and if we focus on that, and focus on the best ways to do that for different people, we’ll be able to help them.

But all in all, it is a great job in my opinion, and it’s one that I thoroughly enjoy doing!

School Careers Adviser