Q&A on career options and work-related skills with expert advisers from City & Guilds

 At a time of such high youth unemployment, and following the recent hike in tuition fees, helping your teen consider all their available career options has never been more important.

City & Guilds joined us for a Q&A in November 2012 to answer you or your teenager's career-related questions, including how to get into special effects, music careers on offer aside from being a musician and if publishing is only reserved for those with a degree.


Q. eatyourveg: Is a publishing career out for anyone without a degree? All the vacancies we have looked at state they're only looking for graduates.

A. Melody Dawes, Head of Publishing: Traditionally, new entrants to publishing are required to have a degree and certainly in the core specialist publishing functions, such as editorial, marketing and sales, this is the minimum expected. Often, candidates will have an MA in Publishing or some form of industry-related Post-graduate qualification and have generally undertaken some unpaid work experience too.

"For some of the 'supporting services', such as finance, IT, operations etc, a route in to a publishing company without a degree may be possible, but a horizontal transfer is unlikely and very unusual."

Publishing is a highly competitive industry and difficult to get in to – especially at entry level and especially for one of the major publishing houses. For some of the 'supporting services', such as finance, IT, operations etc, a route in to a publishing company without a degree may be possible but a horizontal transfer is unlikely and very unusual. Printers and typesetters who work very closely with publishing houses may be another option without a degree but again, crossover is unlikely.

Skillset, The Sector Skills Council for the Creative Industries, has some great information on its website regarding accredited training and routes in to publishing as well as some useful information on where to seek funding for training.

Q. lou4791: My son is in Year 11 and is very unsure what his next step should be. Although effort has been very lacking with his studies, it is likely that he will achieve B grades for most of his nine GCSEs. He enjoys computer visual effects and was really interested in the work of a VFX company. I am aware that this area is highly competitive and not sure how best to advise him in order to keep this option open.

He has also shown an interest in engineering. Aerospace, aeronautical and electronic all appeal to him. An apprenticeship in this area would be fantastic.

Should I be encouraging him to stay on for his A-levels and either go onto a higher apprenticeship or university? Or look for an apprenticeship as his next step? Are there any other paths that may suit him, e.g. BTEC?

A. Ken Gaines, City & Guilds and Graham Goodwin, Lead Portfolio Manager: Much of the world of visual effects requires the use of some specialist software or the programming of particular equipment. Many of the qualifications on offer tend to deal with traditional special effects – blowing things up and stunt support – so to get a basis in what could lead to the CGI (Computer Graphics Imagery) path, an apprenticeship in graphic design or media may be most appropriate at this stage. Doing A-Levels could also lead to an opportunity to pursue university courses that may be more specific or higher level IT qualifications.

In terms of engineering and aerospace apprenticeships, there are a number of programmes leading to a wealth of job roles – so it largely depends on what your son is particularly passionate about. Many employers run engineering apprenticeship programmes directly, and these are in high demand. To boost his chances he could either get some experience at weekends in the kind of skills he will need for his future career, or he could speak to an FE college.

"Engineering covers a range of opportunities from designing mobile phones to building sports cars but they all have one thing in common - maths."

As courses go, performing engineering operations is a very good first choice as it underpins most apprenticeships and covers a lot of basic hand tool skills your son will need.

Engineering covers a range of opportunities from designing mobile phones to building sports cars but they all have one thing in common - maths. Although we use a wide range of computer programmes to do the hard work you do still need the skills to look at a number and quickly work out whether that figure looks correct. Some colleges will run a pre-assessment but please urge your son to look at this subject.

Q. peachcake: My son is nearly 18 and is studying at college in his second year of A levels, taking maths, physics and art, and has a AS level in graphics. He has decided to do a degree in maths, as he loves maths, and is predicted an A in both maths and physics, and a C in art. The only thing is he has absolutely no idea what career he wants at the end of his degree, he just knows that he doesn't want to teach maths.

Can you suggest any reading he can do on careers for maths graduates? He's also quite interested in physics. I worry that there are many careers out there that would suit him that we just aren't aware of and we don't know how to find them! 

A. Graham Goodwin, Lead Portfolio Manager: It is a fantastic strength to be comfortable with maths (written by someone who struggles with a calculator!) and unsurprisingly is a skill that employers really value.

Maths is also a strong element of many careers, from the sciences (chemistry or physics), to business (economics and statistics), to more hands-on roles such as motor sport development, computer games design or aircraft engineering.

There are some really good information sites, such as the National Careers Service which offers more detail on specific career paths. Alternatively, if he wants to go down the university route, he could visit Prospects.ac.uk, which gives advice on graduate careers.

There are also some career choice programmes which ask questions on your son's likes/dislikes and recommend a few careers he could investigate further.

However the best advice is, as always, to encourage him to try and experience it himself. If there are no friends or family 'in the trade' then schools/colleges may offer work placements or taster days.

"One of the common misconceptions about the vocational route is that it is very much geared towards traditional trades like plumbing or engineering. However, there has been a big increase in the number of apprenticeships in sectors such as care, cookery, customer service, business administration, marketing and management."

Q. BackforGood: What are the routes for bright, capable youngsters who just don't want to go down the university route, but aren't practical, engineering type people? My son is currently doing A-levels, (Eng literature, history, drama and Religious Studies) but is really struggling for any direction after that and I don't know where to direct him for inspiration.

A. Russell Pocock, Head of Learner Engagement: There are plenty of routes for people who don't want to go to university, and for those who aren't keen on doing any of the more practical, hands-on trades. One of the common misconceptions about the vocational route is that it is very much geared towards the traditional trades, such as plumbing or engineering. However, there has been a big increase in the number of apprenticeships in sectors such as care, cookery, customer service, business administration, marketing and management. 

If your son is keen on English and history, they probably have a gift for writing and analysing – maybe they could look into careers in the marketing or PR field, where strong written skills are a necessity.

Q. gazzalw: We have an 11 year old (Year 7) who is very keen on being a software games designer when he 'grows up'. What type of approach should he be taking academically and is it important that he gains work experience when he's a bit older but still at school?

Would some type of specialist degree course be wisest or would there be other degree subjects that would enable him to keep his options open? Also, he's not very good at art or DT - is it feasible to be a good games designer without being inherently artistic?

A. Ken Gaines, Portfolio Manager: As he is just beginning secondary education, there is still a long way to go before he has to make up his mind what the future should hold for him. At this point in his education it is important to try all sorts and ensure that the current aptitude for art or graphic design continues to grow.

If he wants to pursue the software designer route, he will need to have good IT skills - and not just in office-type products. He could try out some of the free software development tools – Scratch for example - as these will help him gain some idea of whether the games developer world is for him.

Q. PhyllisDoris: What careers are there in music for someone who enjoys playing several instruments but who doesn't want to be a professional musician? What's the best entry into these careers?

A. Kerry Mclennan-Mckenzie, Portfolio Manager: There are certainly some career options you could explore if you're keen on music. If you play lots of instruments, you clearly have a good ear. Therefore, why not think about studying sound engineering or music technology? These will allow you to use your knowledge of instruments to support music creation and other musicians and/ or bands.

Q. BedHog: Is there a resource available with a comprehensive list of career paths and job types available, with short summaries on what each involves, plus the following information...

  1. Qualifications required or desirable
  2. Average salary, or salary range
  3. Amount of competition (e.g, number of jobs within the industry vs applicants)?

I know when I was choosing my career, I had no idea that, for example, a lawyer earns a far higher salary than a librarian, or there will be many more applicants for a job in journalism than for a maths teacher. Teenagers need to look at the practicalities of their choices too.

A. Alisdair Poole, Portfolio Manager: There are a lot of resources out there which can help. Firstly, the government recently launched the National Career Service, which details different job examples, what it would involve, an idea of salary and how you can get into the career path. Another useful resource is Prospects.ac.uk – it covers the areas you want more information in, although this is designed primarily as a graduate resource.

In terms of knowing the levels of competition for each job role, that's quite a tricky one to decide. What may be worthwhile is, if you know the specific industry, reading the industry-specific magazines and websites. Often such issues will be covered by these forms of media.


Last updated: 8 months ago