'Seven ways to help A-level students find a job'

Not all students taking A levels want to go to university. Here are some ways teachers can boost their employment prospects

Hannah Day

Despite the coronavirus crisis, now could be the ideal time to apply for an international teaching job, says Jennie Devine

While a record number of students went off to university last September, the level of debt gained as a result of degree study has lead to many re-considering their post-16 education options. If you are based in an urban area, then college options can be varied from the traditional A level offering to vocational courses, apprenticeships and work-based learning. But what if your local offering is more limited, or if half way through your course a student changes their planed direction?

Ludlow College, as part of a network of providers, offers a wide variety of courses across all of the above pathways. Despite this, many of our students still opt for the traditional academic route of the A level as a trusted and recognised qualification. Yet not all want to go on to university. In fact, a significant number of our students each year decide that they wish to progress directly to work.

So how do you as an A-level tutor, trained and practised in progressing students onto higher education, ensure your course offers a real foundation for those choosing to go direct from you to their first job? We in the visual arts, media and film at Ludlow have addressed this in several key ways.

Create portfolios….

Changes to the A-level art and design specification have offered flexibility in year one and a chance to re-consider what we do and how we do it. As a result we changed the first term to focus on skills building, increasing contextual knowledge and covering some of the key aspects of each of our art pathways. In graphic communication, we take students through a Bauhaus project which results in a set of postage stamp designs, a print-making project resulting in a children’s books cover and internal page, and finally a Photoshop-focused project that leads to a logo and website design for a company of their choice. That means any student intent on entering a graphics career has by their first Christmas with us three varied outcomes to show at interview. Add to this the externally set task, which allows for much more development and so hopefully more considered outcomes, and by the end of year one each student’s portfolio is well on the way.

Now imagine that student also takes fine art and photography with us. Alongside their graphics work there will be panting, drawings and printmaking, or a portrait, landscape and still life set of outcomes. For those doing media studies there will be a magazine cover and page spread using InDesign, and if they take film then they will have a show reel to add to the collection. 


…and ensure they show quality

Of course, no one excels at everything. Once the work rolls in, make sure the portfolio is edited down. With a number of outcomes being produced, you can afford to lose the weakest few from the final collection. After all, it is better to show a little less but to ensure what is there is of high quality. Remember: an employer is not Ofsted; they are not interested in seeing progression, but the best that student can do.


Careers day (and knowing local business)

We put on a careers day each November where we get local employers in to talk about an aspect of their work. We aim to keep each session focused with a practical outcome or key lesson to be communicated. Through these days, staff and students have been able to meet a wide variety of people who then have offered work placements and in some cases jobs. This year for example one of our graphic design students was offered a job with training with one of the country’s premier airbrush artists working on bespoke car, bike and helmet designs for clients as varied as Rolls Royce and The Grand Tour TV show. Had we not been inviting people in from the community I would not have found out about this local craftsman, nor found out about his expanding order book, but most importantly our student would not now be in a job he loves dearly and being trained as he works.


Work experience

This is an area where being at the same institution for some years can be a real benefit. Having strong links with local employers has led to many opportunities for our students, not least some excellent work placements. As work experience is now a government requirement placed upon post-16 institutions, it is a great opportunity to ensure provision is of real value to those wanting to go direct from college into the world of work. We have built links with a number of people and companies working in the local area, meaning that we have a range of relevant placements we can use each and every year. The more links you have, the more likely to are to find good fits for both students and employers when looking to place students.


Alumni network

You will have loads of great ex-students. Who are they? What are they doing now? And how get you get them involved? From talks and workshops to work placements and specialist advice, they are the ones out there doing it in the real world, so get them on board.


Live briefs

This is probably the most time consuming of all the points in this piece. My first advice would be to say no to 90 per cent that are offered to you. In my experience the local art department is seen by some as a place to get free work done under the guise of helping students to build a portfolio. But when we have completed live briefs, we have found them to be hugely valuable so here are some tips as to how to do them well. Firstly are there any briefs that can be done yearly, that can be fitted in to your year plan at a times that suits you and will genuinely result in a positive outcome that is useful for the students portfolio?

Within photography, we take headshots for the drama students as part of a first year identity project. The work fits into a brief already being delivered in the photography course and the drama students make excellent models. With drama students getting headshots for application to drama school and photography students completing a profession brief, two sets of students benefit. In graphics, we design the college’s Christmas card each year with the successful candidate having their work professional printed and sent out to hundreds of college contacts.


Online presence

We actively encourage students to build websites, create a Linkedin profile, an Instagram page, a collection on Pinterest boards and a Twitter account purely for work. This allows us to teach them about professionally presenting themselves online and getting their work out there. They work together effectively as modern day digital portfolios with links to online work easily being emailed out to prospective employers. This year, we have some great examples of students gaining freelance jobs through their online presence.

Hannah Day is head of visual arts, media and film at Ludlow Sixth Form College

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