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Nicky Marr: Trust today's youth to take ownership of their careers

By Nicky Marr

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Nicky Marr.
Nicky Marr.

As Scottish Careers Week ended on Friday, I was in Alness with a group of aspirational and inspirational S5 students to deliver a workshop that I’ve been sharing across Highland for nearly a decade. It’s called ‘Present Yourself with Confidence’ and is delivered to senior school pupils through the Developing the Young Workforce scheme.

The aim of the workshop is to help young people get from where they are now to where they would love to be. Some of them haven’t got a clear idea yet, but that’s fine. What is important is getting them thinking about the skills and experience they already have and reinforcing that it’s their decision what to do next, it’s not just up to their parents.

Based on a mixture of the skills I’ve picked up as a coach, and adding in some leadership and presentations skills training, the students are invited to think about the people who inspire them.

On their lists will inevitably be politicians like Obama and Zelenski, sporting icons like Serena Williams and Marcus Rashford, and people who stood up against great wrongs, like Nelson Mandela and Rosa Parks.

What qualities do these icons possess? The students talk of honesty and integrity, of leading by example and through encouragement, or about doing the right things for the right reasons.

Taylor Swift is admired for her authenticity, as well as her talent. Matthew Perry is posthumously applauded for sharing his vulnerability when it came to his struggles with addiction and mental health.

Having identified the qualities they admire in others, I invite them – in small groups – to do that for each other. Learning that their friends see them as caring, good communicators, great team players, and/or utterly reliable, can be the boost they need to really start believing in themselves. For once they see past their own self-doubt. What a gift it is to see ourselves as others see us.

With these qualities tucked away in their pockets, we start talking about careers and aspirations. Each school will have a smattering of prospective engineers, teachers, healthcare staff and kids keen to join the forces. But rocket science in Highland? That was a joke, till Orbex announced plans to launch from Strathy Point. The fact is that most of today’s young people will end up in careers that don’t yet exist.

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So why are we – parents and teachers - so intent on moulding them in our own image? Or steering them into careers that we think might be best for them? How can we know what will give them purpose, make their hearts sing, or bring them fulfilment?

We can’t. Which is why I invite the students to take ownership of, and responsibility for, the next stage of their lives.

Of course they should take all the advice and guidance on offer – that’s what Careers Week is all about. Information is power, as is work experience, But I also encourage them to channel the wisdom of Dr Seuss:

“You have brains in your head. You have feet in your shoes. You can steer yourself any direction you choose.”

I talk from experience. At school my only dream career was to be a Blue Peter presenter, but I didn’t tell a soul. Instead I was channelled into law – it was vocational, aspirational, and for clever kids like me.

For four years – more, perhaps, I was miserable. Square peg, round hole. Presenting MFR Breakfast for 13 years got me close to my dreams, but no cigar. But there’s no blame – those were different times. I’d probably never have made it that far, but I might have landed nearer the goal than I got.

I’ve learned though, that we should step back, trust in our young folk, and allow them to take responsibility for their futures. These are their lives. Any mistakes will be theirs, but they’ll learn from them. And their triumphs will be all the sweeter when they’ve achieved them under their own efforts.

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