With A-Level results day finally arrived, new research from AAT (Association of Accounting Technicians) shows that the vast majority of 16-19 year olds (94%) are worried about making career decisions, such as choosing what job they want to do in the future or deciding on what to do after they leave school.
The top worry cited by young people is choosing the right job to suit them (27%), followed by not knowing what they want to do in the future (20%). This is despite it now being rare to have the same job or career for life. According to AAT research, the average person works for six different companies in their lifetime, exploring new career paths as their skills and interests develop and evolve.
The majority of 16-19 year olds (51%) said the stress caused by career decisions is having a negative effect on their health. More than a quarter (28%) said that they struggle to sleep at night due to career decision worries, while 22% are either overeating or undereating. Almost one in five (17%) said that they are having panic attacks as a result, and 18% said they don’t think they’re doing as well at school as a result.
Students pressured to go to university
There is a range of pathways that students can take to develop their skills, yet almost two thirds (63%) of 16-19-year-olds say they experienced pressure from their schools to choose to go to university.
A quarter (24%) stated that they experienced significant pressure. Additionally, 19% of 16-19-year-olds say their school never spoke with them about apprenticeships, while 46% said their school mentioned apprenticeships but focused more on university.
According to figures obtained from the Department for Education, the proportion of students going to university has increased steadily from 53% in 2012 to 59% in 2015 (see Fig. 1) while apprenticeships remain a small minority (6% in 2015).
Fig. 1 – The proportion of Key Stage 5 (A-Level) students who undertook apprenticeships after leaving school comparing to those who went to university
Mark Farrar, Chief Executive at AAT, said: “Many thousands of students can feel as though they are facing overwhelming pressure during the results season, because they fear that their entire future career depends on making a particular decision at that moment in time. However, as we’ve seen, a ‘job for life’ is something of a rarity now; people’s skills and interests tend to change as they build up experience, leading them down different paths along the way.
“The route they choose right now is therefore not necessarily the be-all and end-all for life. Indeed a large number of people studying AAT have chosen to enter the accounting industry at an older age and from a different industry – over half of AAT’s student population is aged 24 or higher, and the average AAT student is 34 years old. However for a school leaver, their next step could be seen as helping them to gain and develop a wider variety of skills. This will ultimately boost their employability, whatever the industry.
“Our data suggests that the current system tends to push students towards university, but some may be better suited to another route such as an apprenticeship – which can offer so many opportunities to learn while benefiting from developing skills associated with entering the workplace earlier and gaining greater financial independence.
“It is important that students are exposed to other options so that they feel most equipped to make an informed choice about the career path that suits them best.”
Conquering the career fear
AAT has provided the following five tips to help students to conquer their career fears and manage their stress during the exam results season.
- Remind yourself of your goal and what you’ve accomplished so far
When you feel like you are drowning with big career decisions to make, it can help to remember what your goals and dreams are. Sometimes we focus so much on a single task that we forget to see the bigger picture and think about the successes we’ve had so far. Take a step back and break down the timescales to allow you to think about where you want to be in a year, then five years’ time.
- Take charge of the things you can control
There are a lot of pressures you simply can’t control – so try to focus on the things which are within your reach that you can influence to increase your employability. Networking is important, and making valuable connections, whether through meetings or LinkedIn, can help you to find a job. You can also use networking to identify future clients, research information about a job or create your own personal identity or “brand”. Think broadly and seek help from experts or careers services to understand the industries that your skills might be best suited to.
- Watch your diet
It’s easy to reach for high fat, sugary foods when you are feeling stressed, but including brain super foods like wholegrains, oily fish, blueberries, nuts and broccoli into your diet can help to regulate your glucose levels and keep you alert. You also need energy to focus on the day ahead, be this when applying for jobs or for further education courses, so make sure that you regularly get eight hours sleep.
- Take your mind off things
Getting out of the house and doing some exercise is a good way to help relieve the feeling of pressure. Anything from walking the dog to running up and down the stairs will help reduce tension and release endorphins. Also remember to relax. Make sure you schedule some ‘me-time’ into your day; whether that’s watching your favourite TV show, calling a friend or going for a jog to keep you balanced.
- Spend time with friends and family
Allow yourself some downtime to relax and catch up with friends and family. This can help to take your mind off things and leave you feeling refreshed and energised. Friends and family can also provide a different perspective on some of the things that you may be worried about – don’t underestimate the value of talking to someone or finding yourself a mentor who’s “been there and done that”.