I’m currently studying French and Russian at Cambridge University. Before I took on further education, fresh after A-Levels and very fresh faced indeed, I worked at a Blue Chip Company for a year. As an 18 year-old whose Professional Experience section of her CV was limited to Children’s Fancy Dress Party Leader, the learning curve was steep and I quickly picked up a lot about work and workplace culture. My experience was broadly positive but I did encounter some sexist and ageist comments along the way. This surprised me. I attended an all girls’ school whose motto was “she has set heights in her heart” and this was very much instilled in each pupil. My first real experience of work didn’t fit this narrative: I wasn’t prepared for the workplace and I am not entirely sure that the workplace was prepared for me.
Following this experience and my first term of university, The Think Future Study was conceived. The study provides insight into how students, particularly women, feel their university experiences shape and influence their aspirations for the future and helps to inform employers about current students’ career expectations with the aim of smoothing students’ transition from university to the world of work.
We received over 20,000 responses from students at 21 universities in the UK and Ireland. Current students prioritise work with meaningful social impact and expect to be rewarded well for their contribution. Women are confident in their personal abilities to achieve their potential but are already concerned about the role their gender will have in holding back their careers. Students from lower socio-economic backgrounds are the most driven to succeed, but the least informed about career paths. As the Founder, the most striking result for me is the revelation that women and students from lower socio-economic backgrounds are starting their career journey on the back foot because of reduced career confidence and awareness of opportunities.
We are often encouraged to focus on the task in hand: achieve good A-Level grades, go on to university, and then gain employment. Rather than considering these events as individual milestones, we need to blur the lines and better integrate the journey from “schoolroom to boardroom” through increased collaboration between schools, universities and employers. This approach will give all students, particularly women and those from lower socio-economic backgrounds, the facts they need to access the opportunities available to them.
Whether you are an employer, careers service professional or frequenter of the 30% Club website I hope you find the report insightful and I urge you to consider the issues raised by the Think Future students – the workforce of the future – and reduce the number of students, like my 18 year-old self, who are unprepared for the realities of working life.