Lauren Brown: Exam results are not the be-all and end-all of everyone's career journey

A few weeks ago, on 8 August, school pupils across the country received their exam results, with many having cause for celebration. There is no doubt that Scotland continues to do well, with the number of passes remaining well above 150,000 for a third successive year '“ a fact recognised by John Swinney, the Education Secretary, as he congratulated students and teachers for their '˜hard work and effort'.

Lauren Brown  Developing the Young Workforce West Lothian

However, whilst it is important to celebrate the success of academic achievement, we need to take account of those pupils who may not have achieved the results they expected. In the immediate aftermath of this realisation comes inevitable disappointment, coupled with uncertainty about what the future might hold. So, whilst the successful pupils feel elation, the ones who fell short of academic success might now be coming to terms with how to see the future in a positive light.

It is so important to focus on the positives. Every one of these pupils represents the face of Scotland’s future workforce and this is regardless of their success in the academic arena. With the range of options now available for young people to find their next steps – both educational and work-based – young people should feel encouraged by their alternatives as they make their decisions in the aftermath of receiving their results.

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This was certainly something that the Regional Developing the Young Workforce Groups, along with a host of entrepreneurs, employers, TV personalities and other individuals, came together to highlight on exam results day. DYW Glasgow created the #nowrongpath campaign and it took the country by storm on 8 August, with the hashtag trending across the UK and Ireland and reaching two million tweets by midday.

Not getting your expected exam results is not the end of the world

The campaign was to highlight that, regardless of the outcome of the exam results, there are some fantastic opportunities available to help pupils to progress, and that that there are many people in interesting job roles across Scotland that may not have taken a straight, obvious or traditional path to get there. In other words, there are a range of ways to achieve success even if a pupil’s exam results do not allow them to pursue their original plan.

The social media reaction was incredible. For me, however, it was one of the comments that spoke volumes. A tweet from a young person read ‘I love this #nowrongpath tag, makes me feel a lot less nervous about getting these results.’ This is a proud testament to what the DYW groups set out to achieve with #nowrongpath.

Some examples really shone through. One such story was that of a Registered Staff Nurse and Care Manager who, when she left school, could not study Nursing due to the challenges her disability presented. She worked in a bank for 10 years before going on to study nursing and ending up in the position she now holds.

Then there is the case of a local councillor, who finished school in 2013 and went to university, dropping out in the same year he started. He then worked on a Community Jobs Scotland programme for nine months, leading to a job in the Scottish Parliament, before returning to university with his employer’s full support. He was then elected as an SNP councillor in May 2017 and will become a graduate with BA Community Education in November this year.

Not getting your expected exam results is not the end of the world

Two rather different examples, but they highlight both ends of the spectrum – those who face barriers to immediately embarking on their dream job, but end up taking a different path to get to the same ultimate destination; and those who achieve the results to follow their chosen path and then end up completely changing course.

The point is that exam results – and the immediate pathways taken afterwards – are not the be-all and end-all of everyone’s career journey.

When we stop to reflect on our own paths, it is often the experiences we have had – whether it is entry-level jobs or travelling or going to university – which have developed our skills, shaped our attitudes and in some way led us to where we are now.

The significant part of this journey – at least for me – relates to the people we have met along the way: the employers who saw our potential; the people who gave us a chance; the individuals who mentored us, guided us and advised us. Without their input would we have arrived at the same destination or developed the same skills?

#nowrongpath was another example of the vital role we all – especially those in the business community – play in the development of young people.

Employers engaging with education, inspiring our young people and providing them with opportunities is a fundamental step in ensuring the success of our future workforce.

Lauren Brown, Developing the Young Workforce West Lothian