Jobs for School Leavers
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The School-Leavers Guide to Finding a Job

Where you work and what you do there can shape your life. Here are some pointers to help you in the right direction.

All young people face the same kinds of problems when it comes to choosing a career, writing business letters, filling out applications, and going to job interviews.

But there are still too many teenagers who do not know the rudiments of job seeking. Many drift through their school years, absorbing a bit of career advice here and there, but not really bothering.

A great deal of time, money, and effort should be spent on career information and education to cultivate job awareness among young people throughout the U.S.

How long should you stay at school?

Your decision when to leave school will have a profound effect on your life.

If you leave too early you may not have the minimum education standard needed for the job you want. A School Certificate (or its equivalent) is necessary for most trades and commercial careers and matriculation is needed for university. If you haven’t the minimum requirements your entrance chances are extremely slim or non-existent.

And what about the competition? If you’re choosing a career with only a few vacancies competition is usually keen and the higher your educational and personal standards will have to be for you to win selection.

If you want to go for a university-trained profession, don’t forget that a matriculation doesn’t always mean you can enter the faculty of your choice. The universities have only a certain number of places available in each faculty.

So if 300 students apply for only 80 places for the faculty of medicine – you can see the problem! The number of students wanting a particular occupation (or the demand for a job) sets the standard and levels needed to get in. These standards can rise and fall with the level of demand for a particular job.

Understanding job competition

Supposing you do have all the qualifications you need, your troubles are still not over. You might have chosen a career which has only a few vacancies.

Demand for and supply of jobs vanes with changes in the economy and in people’s attitudes. These affect a job’s popularity, pay, and conditions which, in time, again alter people’s attitudes.

Confused? Here is an example. Geology used to be an unusual occupation. Then came the mining boom when the geologist was king. Geology got a lot of publicity which resulted in a flood of applications from young people wanting to become geologists. And this led to an over-supply of geologists so their pay dropped. In turn, geology became a less popular career choice.

Another example is the legal profession. Once this had very good prospects. Now, however, it is becoming over-crowded. There are too many applicants for the jobs available and prospects are bad.

During bad conditions, the labor market tightens and competition increases so that even the least popular jobs or trades are hotly contested.

Job choices and alternatives

A lot of students make up their minds on a career and won’t take any interest in alternatives. If you’re like this there’s a good chance you’ll have problems later on.

You might not get the job or career you’ve been planning on for so many years. This is why you should have alternative job choices up your sleeve. Your own interests are the guide to the areas in which you wish to work. Some examples for fourth formers are:

  • Retailing: sales assistant or commercial trainee.
  • Commercial or clerical: accounts, purchasing, or receptionist.
  • Manufacturing trades: Fitting, turning, and boiler-making.
  • Automotive trades: motor mechanic, spray painter.
  • Building trades: bricklayer, plumber, or carpenter.
  • Catering: chef, pastry cook, and hotel management.
  • Clothing or textile industry: dress designer.
  • Media: newspapers, radio, television, and public relations.
  • Entertainment: actor, singer, dancer.
  • Arts: artist, writer, interior decorator, poet.
  • Scientific: laboratory assistant, biology technician.
  • Drafting: architectural, structural, and mechanical work.
  • Furniture: upholsterer, wood machinist, cabinet maker.
  • Repair and other mechanical work: TV repairs, refrigeration mechanic, sewing mechanic.

If you are a sixth former, the field is similar but is sub-divided into jobs for which you need tertiary training. Decide whether you want to do further study and look at the basic fields of interest. These are:

  • Retailing: commercial trainee.
  • Commercial or clerical: Public Service, accountancy, and purchasing officer.
  • Engineering: mechanical, civil, and electrical.
  • Scientific: industrial, chemistry, metallurgy, and research.
  • Teaching: primary, secondary, technical college, and university.
  • Medical: doctor, veterinarian, and optometrist.
  • Paramedical: speech or occupational therapy, radiographer, physiotherapist.
  • Construction: drafting, architecture, civil engineer, surveyor.
  • Journalist: TV, radio, and public relations.
  • Drafting: mechanical, electrical survey, cartography.
  • Natural resources: forestry, botany biology, geology, a mining engineer.

Flexibility means survival

By all means, try hard to get into the career of your first choice. That should be the top priority… but not to the exclusion of everything else.

I’ve often seen young people with firm career choices floundering when they are unsuccessful. In many cases, they don’t even apply for other jobs but sit back in the calm expectation that somehow, they will get into their chosen field.

The thought of looking for possible alternatives never enters their heads. They don’t know where to start. When they finally do try to choose an alternative it’s too late. Most of the good jobs are gone. They finish up taking whatever they can get.

You must remember that vacancies for school leavers start from about August onwards. This doesn’t mean that you will start work then, but that employers start considering applications then and set their closing dates. The job opportunities reach their peak in about November-December.

Things quieten down over Christmas and there is a brief flicker of activity after exam and scholarship results are known in January but many positions are filled well before you leave school.

By planning ahead, you can avoid disappointment and be in a far better position to make decisions. Remember, try always to know where you’re going and how you’ll get there, and have an alternative plan ready should your first one fail because of exam failure, results that aren’t good enough, or because you applied too late.

Your second choice must be well thought out and realistic. It’s no good having a job as a second choice which is as hard as the first.

For instance, a girl who wants to be a doctor’s receptionist and makes dental assistant her second choice is not really making things any better. Both jobs are usually hard to get.

What she could do is try for both these positions, but also apply for a third choice which should be one that is a little easier – office or sales assistant, for instance.

If nothing else really interests you, still try to make a plan in case things don’t work out. This might be going back to school to get a better pass or leaving school to do a part or full-time course at a technical school to get the qualifications you need.

Blueprint for choosing a job

You could be reading this and breaking into a cold sweat as you realize it is almost too late for any extra planning.

There are ways of working out your problem. On a piece of paper list all the things that would interest you in a job together with what you want to avoid. Your list could look like this.

    • Dealing with people.
    • Travel.
    • Outdoor work.
    • Good wages.
    • Security.
    • A job that is theoretical instead of practical.
    • Work that involves mechanics.

On the other side of the page, list the jobs that meet some or all of these requirements. A traveling salesperson, for example, meets people, travels, is outdoors a great deal, and doesn’t usually get involved in mechanics – depending on the product sold, of course. On the other hand, he or she is often paid commission only and doesn’t have excellent job security.

The job meeting most of your requirements should be your first choice.

Where the jobs are

Once you’ve left school and picked several realistic job choices you will need to know the major sources of job opportunities. These are:

  • Employment offices.
  • Vacancy columns of newspapers.
  • Calling on personnel officers in firms that sound as if they might have something for you.
  • Online boards, search engines, and employment websites.

Newspapers are an important source of vacancies. Read the advertisements carefully. Carry out the instructions. If employers ask for applications in writing, that’s what they want. They don’t want irritating phone calls or people knocking on the door.

But don’t sit down and write a 10-page letter! Be clear and brief. Writing several long pages means you are taking up too much of the employer’s time.

An employer needs to know:

  • Who you are and where you live.
  • Why you are writing and where you found out about the vacancy.
  • Date of birth or age.
  • Education standard.
  • Previous work experience, if any.
  • Brief details of your reports, references, hobbies, interests, or other qualifications. Don’t get bogged down in detail. You can always elaborate at the interview.

Gate-calling is doing things the hard way but you could strike lucky. It will also give you experience in being interviewed and filling out application forms. Most employers are sympathetic to gate-callers. They recognize that you are keen to work and that you can use your own initiative.

Some fields like commercial art or interior design rarely advertise for trainees so gate-calling is the only way of getting yourself known.

Even an unsuccessful day can bear fruit later. An employer who didn’t have any vacancies when you called might have one later and select you.

Phoning personnel officers allows you to cover a large number of potential employers quickly. Here are some tips for a good telephone manner. You must be positive. Don’t ask “Have you a vacancy?” but mention the type of job you want. For example “I heard you have a laboratory at your plant and I’d like to know if you have any vacancies for a trainee laboratory technician.”

Short and to the point. You will have told the employer that you’ve done your homework and know there are facilities for your type of job. You’ve also told him exactly the type of job you’re after.

Parents can help too

A word to parents: You play a vital role in the process of job selection and job finding.

Quite often you give subtle, indirect, and even unwitting advice; and your influence depends on your interests, knowledge, temperament, prejudices, domestic circumstances, and relationship with your children.

Some parents force a child into the job they think is best suited to him or her. Let your children make up their own minds – for they are the ones who will have to live with the decision.

That doesn’t mean you have to vacate the field of career counseling completely. You are the parents of your child. You know his or her strengths and weaknesses and you should have some idea of your child’s potential. Use your knowledge to encourage her to reach out to the limit of that potential, however high or low it may be.

Help your child to cultivate job awareness and to look at various alternative occupations. Show friendly interest, not pushiness, and it will work wonders. Keep your information on careers up to date. Your opinions carry the weight so make sure they are informed opinions. Fixed ideas or outdated knowledge can lead you to support or encourage job choices that have little prospect of success.

Tips for girls

Many of you look for jobs in certain areas – retail, commerce, teaching, nursing, and public service – hence job competition in these fields is keen.

The smallest number of jobs is in teaching. If you group public service jobs with the commercial ones, you are left with three categories. Commercial or clerical work includes jobs like accounting, typing, or operating a switchboard. Retailing might include working in fashion, pharmacy, or shoe departments or buying goods for these departments.

It sounds like a great variety of jobs and you might think there are many interesting opportunities around. Think again! Boys share these opportunities with you and take a fair slice of those vacancies. Sometimes they take all the interesting ones!

Accountancy, purchasing, production, and so on are more senior positions and lead to management positions. These jobs – better paid, more interesting, and with the best prospects – too often go to the boys and girls are left with the routine filing and clerical type jobs.

Think carefully for a minute. What sounds a better job? On the one hand, as an office assistant, you’re filing papers, running messages, getting the morning tea, doing some copy typing, and, very likely, getting no further.

On the other hand, you might be assisting a purchasing officer, starting with stock control, following up orders, and eventually dealing with suppliers and purchasing items for the company.

My advice is to start with routine work and build from there. More and more girls are getting on in their jobs and aiming for jobs in senior management.

The trouble is that in the past girls were expected to leave school, work at a job for a few years and then leave to get married.

This kind of outlook has prevented a lot of you from seeking or obtaining good careers for yourselves. In the first place, employers didn’t make the opportunities available and in the second place, you didn’t think much about getting ahead anyhow. A lot of you still don’t.

How many of you have looked at occupations apart from the traditional “female” ones? How about engineering? What about drafting? You could even apply for an apprenticeship as an electrical fitter.

Some of you will say that certain jobs are not right or suitable because you are a girl. But they could be right for you as a person.

If clerical jobs are advertised, even if they ask for boys, be cheeky, and apply.

Once you have decided on a “male” occupation you face the problem of being female and having to overcome employer prejudice. You will need patience and perseverance. Once you have been accepted by the boss you will have to win acceptance from your workmates. Usually, you will do this when they have become used to the idea of you working alongside them.

I’m not saying that girls everywhere should rush out and compete with boys in all types of jobs. Don’t look down on the jobs like typing and filing and if you want marriage and full-time motherhood as a career don’t listen to those who insist that work is some form of liberation.

The point is you should do whatever job you want and for which you are suited.

Beating unemployment

When general unemployment is increasing there are fewer apprenticeships, cadetships, vacancies, and opportunities for young people.

If you are caught in this situation, the following list may help you to find a solution.

  • Look at a wider variety of jobs than you would normally.
  • Be prepared to travel further for a job.
  • Carry out a job-seeking program for yourself instead of relying on employment services.
  • Be a little less particular as to what job you want and where you would like to work. Remember, you can’t be as choosy as you may have been in times of good employment.
  • Start applying for jobs earlier.
  • Apply for more jobs. Fewer opportunities mean increased competition for whatever is available. You can’t create additional vacancies but you can make sure you apply for many more of them than you would have done otherwise.

Voluntary unemployment – when you sit back and take a holiday for a few months after leaving school – is really risky. Unless your future is secure (such as a job in the family business) you can’t afford to take it easy.

Coping with unemployment

The first result of unemployment is no pay. You will have to depend on someone else for your money.

A more serious effect of long-term unemployment is the damage to your pride, confidence, and belief in your abilities.

You mustn’t take it personally. If you have tried hard for realistic job choices, blame it on the general employment situation and not yourself. It’s not that the employers don’t want to give you a try. but that they can’t because of limits on the numbers of staff they can afford.

Keep trying. Remember, the older you get, the more difficult it becomes to get junior starting positions.

Time is one of the greatest wastes of being unemployed. Use it for hobbies or sport. Try to make good use of the hours on your hands so your unemployment will not be a complete waste of time and your sense of frustration will be less.

Job finding in today’s conditions of high unemployment is an acute problem for young people. They need help if they are to get the best results from their efforts. If they are successful in finding work they can have a richer and fuller life.

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