When I left school in 2010, the next step for most people was university but there wasn’t much advice on what to do besides that.
I’d done random A-levels and hadn’t got great grades, but I’d done some extracurricular things, so thought I should apply for university. But I wrote one line of my personal statement and stopped – I felt like I was being pigeonholed.
That’s when I knew I didn’t want to go to uni. But I also knew how to talk to people, how to manage my time and money, how to lead a team and how to get stuff done. So I did an executive PA diploma and then applied for heaps of jobs. I was 19 when I got a sales secretary/PA job at Nestle and I’ve gone from there.
My old Sixth Form Housemaster, David Hutchings, got in touch as the school was holding a series of talks about options for leavers. They had someone from UCAS, someone to talk about apprenticeships and someone else about gap years; Dave wanted me to give them the point of view of someone who didn’t go to university.
I did a presentation during the sixth form assembly and followed up with smaller tutor group meetings for anyone who had questions or wanted more specific advice. The idea was to show them that it’s ok to have no clue about what you want to do, and tell them about what I did – as someone who was in their shoes – to give them some ideas on what they could do next.
About half of them didn’t know what they wanted to do. A few told me they wanted to get into business, but didn’t know what that looked like. So as soon as one person mentioned apprenticeships, a lot of others realised their value and began considering them as well. That was fantastic, as apprenticeships are much broader now – covering areas like marketing and business studies, as well as trades.
It felt strange going back. A lot hadn’t changed, but it was refreshing to see how the students were being encouraged to look at options outside of uni.
Teenagers should be shown different routes because when you’re at school, you’re not taught about real-world matters you’ll need to face one day. Hearing from, and being able to ask questions of, someone who’s been in your position makes it more relatable and – hopefully – inspiring. It shows them that real world experience, skills and expertise can help you in the future.
I really enjoyed doing it. It was a privilege and if it gave one person that lightbulb moment, then it was worth it.
It’s even more vital that children are shown the different routes they can take after school because the whole world of work is shifting.
Some roles won’t be around in future – we’ve heard how AI is going to change the world. So the curriculum will have to adapt and that in turn will make the next generation think differently about what they want to do.
It’ll also undoubtedly have an impact on employers. People won’t stick around in jobs as long, or they’ll do multiple roles to keep themselves motivated and entertained. And that’s why things like having a strong EVP is so important because people will get bored.
David Hutchings, physics teacher at Pocklington School, said: “I believe there’s too much emphasis on university and it can put pressure on students from the start. Lydia’s an excellent role model for how to make the most of your time at sixth form and it was great for the students to hear from her.
“She gave them advice about putting other people first, which you don’t hear enough. She told them to get to know people, learn from them, build relationships and make yourself indispensable. It’s so healthy for students to hear that advice because the ‘you’re the only person that matters’ rhetoric can set people up for a fight. She showed them it’s about collaboration, not competition.”