After school and sixth form – what’s next?

Navigating post-education life

It’s National Careers Week 2021 – a week dedicated to the celebration of careers guidance across the UK! To mark the occasion, we wanted to discuss the next steps after finishing school and college… Despite being a year into a global pandemic, which has brought many things to a stand-still, there are still steps you can take to discover your career path.

Once you’ve finished formal education, you begin your journey in the world of work with some sort of career path in mind. The concept of a “career path” when you’re 16-18 might seem daunting as you may think this means that the decisions you make now will impact the rest of your life.

Whilst the choices you make once leaving school will affect your immediate next steps, by no means do you need to have your entire career mapped out! Nowadays, people change careers multiple times – finding new passions and skills along the way.

So, there is no need to have your future planned until your retirement. However, it’s worth thinking just a few years ahead. Luckily, there are plenty of possible paths you can take. Before we dive in, it’s important to note that when unsure of your career direction, you should choose a pathway that enables you to do something you enjoy – after all, that’s half the battle.

What can I do after I’ve finished my studies?


You can pursue further education at university. Depending on your interests and the career you have in mind, you may need to go to university in order to specialise in this subject – for example, if you want to be a doctor or a physician. Alternatively, you can study your preferred area of interest, such as history or a foreign language, and keep your options open for opportunities that come to light as a result.


You can do an apprenticeship. If you’re tired of traditional education and prefer hands-on learning, an apprenticeship could be the route for you. Through a mixture of study and hands-on experience, you can become qualified in your desired area, get paid whilst you learn, and potentially land a full-time job with the organisation you trained with.

Whilst apprenticeships are often linked to jobs in construction and engineering, they can actually be found in most sectors – including healthcare, agriculture, animal care, business, administration, environment, the digital sector and many more. In addition, an apprenticeship can lead you the same outcome that can be attained via university, as some apprenticeships incorporate you obtaining a degree. The difference is that it takes longer, and you can decide how far you want to go with the qualifications whilst you’re working.

Full-time Employment

If you’ve got your grades and have a job role in mind, you might be able to head straight into full-time employment. Try looking for entry level roles – there are plenty of organisations who look for young people straight out of education to come to work for them. These organisations will often teach you what you need to know whilst you’re on the job, offering training opportunities with first-hand experience of the trade. This might be a role as an accountant, a plumber, a retail worker, etc. Do some research and see what you can find!

If all of the above seem a bit daunting and you’re not quite sure what you want to do – that is completely fine!

I don’t think those options are right for me… What else can I do?

There are other paths you can take in order to find out what career you’re interested in pursuing. For example, whilst committing to a full-time job, apprenticeship or university course might feel too permanent, you can seek out work experience in order to get a taste for a potential sector or specific role during a limited amount of time.

You can do this by approaching the company directly to seek a work experience placement, looking for voluntary roles or researching internships in your desired sector – some of which might be paid. If the perfect opportunity comes along, but it is unpaid, you might still be eligible to claim universal credit. You should check with your local authority or job centre to be sure.

Another way to get a taste of an industry, whilst developing your skills, is to take some online courses. There are plenty out there – covering anything from marketing to coding and more – and many of them are free and provide you with a certificate upon completion.

The Digital Innovators Skills Programme is a great way to combine online learning with hands-on work experience. Over the course of the 11-week programme, our participants receive 3 weeks skills training covering topics such as communication, confidence, networking, digital skills and more.

Then, they are able to put these skills into practice on an 8-week work project with a leading employer. Recent examples of employers our students have worked with include the NHS, West Midlands Police, Birmingham City Council, Taran 3D, Vanti, BNP Paribas Personal Finance, National Grid Metering and many others.

Finally, our participants graduate the programme with tangible work experience which they can include on their CV and are able to talk about their enhanced skills and experience with confidence in an interview.

Next steps and where to find careers advice

So, whilst things might feel strange and stilted as a result of COVID-19, there are steps you can take to kickstart your career and build your future. There are endless opportunities, which have only increased with the facilitation of working from home and remote learning, meaning jobs that were once only available to those who lived in London, for example, can now be accessed remotely by the rest of the UK.

All you have to do is have a think about what the best route for you is! Check out the hashtag #NCW2021 on social media to take advantage of the careers advice being shared throughout this week from National Careers Week, National Careers Service, and many more.

If you’d like careers advice directly to your inbox every fortnight, subscribe to The Stride – your fortnightly fix of careers advice, employer insights, downloadable resources and local opportunities.

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You can see our previous issues here – from job hunting in a pandemic, how to unleash your creativity, an apprenticeship takeover and more.

The article was written by Bronia - Communications and Business Development Assistant

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