The traditional ‘slow news’ period between Christmas and New Year usually results in some interesting and occasionally bizarre stories being reported which ordinarily wouldn’t attract a great deal of media attention.
One of the stories which stood out for me during the recent festive period was the story of Matt Frost.
Following an accident at work, Matt aged 30, gave up his job in retail. Unsure of what career he wanted to do, Matt pledged to try a different job each week for the whole of 2013.
During the year, Matt got a taster of a wide range of different roles including Copywriter, Blacksmith, Photographer, Farmer, PR Assistant, Waiter, Teaching Assistant, Horticulturalist, Estate Agent, IT Technician, Pub Landlord, Builder, Police Officer, Locksmith, University Lecturer, Video Games Developer, Librarian, Production Co-ordinator and Graphic Designer.
Matt also got the opportunity to try out a number of jobs in the media and some high profile roles including Presenter, Film Critic, MP (in training), PA to a TV personality, Athlete Liaison, Film Director and Groundsperson at a Premiership football club.
Matt funded his year of work experience himself after pledging to donate any wages that he earned to the Prince’s Trust.
Although it is an extreme example, Matt’s story does highlight the importance and value of work experience.
Whilst spending a week in a role provides a taster, as Matt acknowledges in his media interviews, it can never give full insight into the experience and training needed to do the jobs ‘for real’.
But what it does do is help young people to gain a greater understanding of what is involved in different job roles and whether they would like to do those activities as part of a future career.
Whilst the reporters that interviewed Matt on both the BBC and Sky News reports that I watched were keen to talk about the more unusual jobs such as Stuntman and Zombie Zone Controller (apparently this is a role similar to an event marshall/steward that supports live action games taking place in London), Matt himself has been keen to highlight some of the roles that he found particularly rewarding such as Beef Farmer and working with students who have special educational needs.
Reflecting on his year of multiple job roles, Matt hasn’t settled on a specific career. He has said that he would like to perhaps pursue one of the roles which would allow him to combine one of his personal interests with work such as working in the video game or film production industries.
He has also said that he particularly enjoyed roles where he was “out doing something completely different” such as being a Surf Instructor. The idea of doing something completely different is something that appeals to a lot of people. However, there is the argument that once you start doing something as a job and it becomes part of your everyday life it ceases to have the appeal of being different.
So what can we learn from Matt’s story, particularly as we look at how we help young people make successful transitions from school to work?
Well, it certainly further champions the benefits of young people having access to developing a greater understanding of what’s involved with different jobs.
Work experience is a great way to do that but how many young people are lucky now to get one placement, let alone the luxury of 2 or 5 or 10 (never mind 52) to help them find out about different roles, work environments and industries?
The same applies to the direct school engagement activity with employers which the Secretary of State for Education believes is the best way of informing young people about careers.
In Matt’s full list of 52 jobs around half are clearly from different industry sectors. How many schools can attract employers from 20 different industry sectors to talk or deliver other direct engagement activities to students?
Realistically it just isn’t possible for schools to give students access to enough ‘live’ experiences to represent the true diversity of the employment options that are available.
This is why careers activities which help young people to explore what is out there in terms of future options are vital. And just as important is giving them the opportunity to develop the skills that help them to make sense of what they discover and use it to help them plan their future.
Once they have some ideas of what they might be interested in, the next step is to help them get more creative about how they get into the career and this needs to go beyond looking at courses, qualifications and training schemes. Which brings us back to getting experience.
For some careers a structured work placement or shadowing is the only method of getting exposure to experiencing the job. However, for many there are other options which will not only help young people to discover if it is something that they really want to do but also give them valuable experience that they can present to a future employer.
Young people interested in journalism should be encouraged to start their own blog or contribute articles and comment to websites and other publications.
Those with an interest in becoming photographers should build portfolios of their work both online and offline.
With technology becoming ever more accessible, aspiring Web Designers and Developers should be encouraged to build their own sites and apps.
And those considering a career in sports development can get involved in coaching local junior sports teams.
These are just a few examples and there are many more.
Getting experience of different workplaces is incredibly valuable but very few people have the opportunity to do what Matt Frost did. We need to inspire and encourage young people to explore a wide range of options and then help them to find creative ways of identifying which options they really do want to pursue.
You can read more about Matt Frost’s 52 jobs in 52 weeks on the One Job a Week website.