Not sure whether to go to university or not? We asked an expert

So you’re just finishing your A levels and you’re thinking about your next steps. Do you go to university and get lumbered with loads of debt? Sure if there’s a subject you’re passionate about studying! But what if there isn’t anything you’re that passionate about? Well there is another alternative. We asked an expert about it and it might appeal to you far more.

We chatted to one of the Step Forward representatives, Charlotte, about what the programme can offer you.

1. What exactly is Step Forward?

It’s a school leavers programme where we match young people with high quality employers. We give them a four-day job and they are also training for a level-3 qualification (in accounting, business support services, social media etc, etc) on the side. People also learn softer skills – we’ve got a whole curriculum full of ‘how to network’ and ‘good communication skills’ and ‘writing an email’. These kind of things that young people ought to know but aren’t taught at school. As well as that we also provide young people with a personal mentor to support them throughout that year.

2. Is it kind of like a foundation/preparation year?

Yes it is. I think it’s going to get even more popular because with university fees becoming more expensive then young people really need to be sure that it’s worth it and they’re going to get a job out of it. Also, if people are going to university they need to sure that’s what they want. It can be almost as valuable knowing what you don’t want to do. Step Forward is a great foundation for doing that.

>3. Young people often feel that we’re pushed down the university route. What do you think about this?

We’ve got mentors who are trained as career advisers which means not to push anybody and let young people make their own informed decisions. Step Forward is actually an apprenticeship but we market it as a school leavers programme. It’s a really a branding thing so when we first did our initial research we asked young people what they thought of apprenticeships. About 3% of young people said that they would be interested. We then described our program and about 33% said they would be interested. It’s still learning through vocation.

4. How do you get around poor public perception of vocational programs?

We offer a real breadth of things people can do. We don’t offer plumbing or the general things people think of apprenticeships. We work with New Look, Bloomberg, Seedrs, loads of design studios and different law companies, doing a variety of different things. For example, if someone wants to get into the world of finance, this is a brilliant stepping stone. There’s no reason to go to university.

>5. Who are the people that are the mentors?

They work for Step Forward. A lot of them are ex-teachers or people that have worked in the youth sector so a lot of it is pastoral support. But we also do a lot of networking so the people that came in to do speeches and workshops they are form lots of different sectors.

6. How do you get young people to find out about what you’re doing?

Step Forward is part of The Challenge which is an organisation that has three programs: Step Forward, Headstart and NCS. We work with around 35,000 people each year and so we’ve got a pipeline of young people that have loyalty towards The Challenge so they’re keen to be our grads and do Step Forward. We recruit through those channels but we mainly go to school and talk face-to-face about it. Interested? Find out more here.