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Laura McGuire

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Schools Should Embrace Difference in Pupils to Encourage Success

Posted: 10/21/11 06:21 AM ET

A key skill I think you should pick up early on in life is that everyone is different. Would I say that is something that I learnt at school? Probably not, to be honest. In fact, I might go as far as to say that when I was at school I felt the teachers didn't recognise that actually I might not be the same as my peers.

I remember questioning why my Food Technology GCSE grade relied on 60% of marks coming from written coursework, rather than learning to actually cook. My teacher simply said that if I didn't pass my GSCE I would fail in life... that's encouragement for you!

From the age of 14 you are asked to start making decisions about your career path by choosing your GSCEs. This isn't necessarily a bad thing, but I think the message to young adults should be that it's okay if you want to change the route later if your interests change.

I ended up changing jobs four times in four years before starting my own company this year at the age of 21. In that time I felt confident that I had learned what I needed to know in order to survive in business, and ultimately how to deal with others.

I personally couldn't wait to leave school - I stayed on to complete my 'A' Levels and then I felt more than ready to join the world of employment and start earning some money! It seemed strange to me that I HAD to fill out my UCAS forms even though I knew that I didn't want to go to university. When I told teachers that I didn't want to go to uni, it seemed they weren't really sure what to do with me.

My feeling was that as I wasn't completely sure which degree I would want to take, where was the point in committing three years of my life and getting into thousands of pounds in debt to do something that I wasn't passionate about?

I ended up getting a job locally working for a debt collection agency - some might say that was a tough first job, and I'd agree! But I turned up for my interview dressed smartly and passionate about being ready to work hard and start my career - and that seemed to do the trick. I still wasn't sure what I wanted to do but I took everything I could from the job - always learning, whether it was people skills, finance, or data protection. There is clearly no right or wrong path for school-leavers but surely if they are encouraged to have different experiences and do things that they enjoy, that will help to steer them in the right direction.

It has definitely been challenging starting my own business and I have been surprised at the business skills, or rather lack of, possessed by others. These people haven't been young adults with no drive or common sense - they are people working in all different sectors of all ages.

I think in an ideal world we should all be doing our bit to encourage young people to
experience as much as they can before making career decisions. In my career I have worked in a variety of different industries and what I have learnt is that communication skills are at the heart of any organisation.

So why not start with that - ensure that children are encouraged to converse with others, have opinions and be able to read and write to a good standard?

I think that we need to get the balance right for kids at school - yes, they should follow instruction, but it is also important for them to think for themselves and ask questions.

Furthermore, instead of filling the press with gloomy stories of unemployment levels, why don't the media make more of the success stories? Why not try and gain the community feel from years ago and encourage local professionals to come into the school to talk about their work? Perhaps we could go even further and start some kind of work experience schemes that last longer than two weeks?

Let us try and demonstrate to these young adults that life is what you make it and that success is not reserved only for the rich or the degree educated. Without wanting to sound like a Miss World contestant - if you have a strong work ethic, and are passionate; you can achieve whatever you want to achieve.

I am currently going through the process of looking to employ somebody and have discussed the options of taking on an apprentice with the recruitment specialists based at my accountancy firm. However, I was warned that if I took on an apprentice that the scheme is quite rigid and if I don't spend enough time doing 'official training' then I could risk being sued by them!

I'd love to spend some time with young people and help to arm them with the business skills they need to success - but in my view we need to all be working in the same direction first and be free of the red tape. Ultimately, my advice to young people is believe in yourself, work hard and you will be a success.