Teachers: How to link your subject to the world of work

Careers expert, Janet Colledge, gives essential advice on why and how subject tutors can introduce students to the world of work through their teaching.

Anyone who has taught at a school in England has experienced an options event.

You know the one: your department gets together to 'sell' your subject to the current Year 9s in the hope of getting a class of Year 10s bright-eyed and bushy-tailed, keen to get an A* (or '9' for that matter) in your subject.

The reality? Often, a frantic shuffle of subject changes in the first few weeks of Year 10.

Avoiding wrong subject option choices

We know that many pupils choose GCSE subjects because they like the teacher, or their best mate has chosen it (no matter how often they were warned not to), or are guided by parents with out-of-date knowledge of the current syllabus. 

But wouldn't it be great if you could ensure that pupils who choose your subject have made solid choices based on a real understanding of the purpose of the subject? Linking your subject to the working world could be the answer.

Here's how to highlight the jobs, professions and industries that your subject could help prepare students for in the future. All you'll need is a slight change in mindset and preparation — this won't take too much time.

1. Match key subject skills with future jobs

Sit down with your scheme of work or syllabus and mark off the skills you need to teach, and a possible job or profession it might be used in.  

If that sounds daunting, the Careers Quiz is a good starting point.

Here's an example: in Year 9, you may be teaching the concept of visual movement, or the ways in which good art and design stimulate the eye and mind of the viewer. There are many jobs this could be linked to (architects, product designers) reinforcing the value of learning this skill.

Even if a student has no interest in the job, using these in the classroom has two valuable effects:

  • Their awareness of possible careers has been expanded. Their interest may be piqued and they may research the job. Even if they discount it, it's a step closer to being in a position to make career choices later.
  • You've shown that what you're teaching has a real use in the world and not just being taught because the syllabus says so. This will improve engagement and effort.

2. Find job resources

Once you have a list of professions and careers that use the skills you are teaching, look out for resources that illustrate this happening: video clips, posters, occupational associations' websites for those careers.

There are more possible sources listed here on my Pinterest board

3. Invite employers in

Get somebody from industry to talk to your pupils about how they use the skills they learnt on the subject. Build this into your scheme of work and share the event with other teachers or the rest of the department.  

Use friends, family, local universities or your alumni network to help source speakers. The Careers & Enterprise Company can also help, so check with your senior leadership team about contacting your Enterprise Adviser. Inspiring the Future is another good source.

4. Get creative

Put together a display for your classroom - or, better still, a corridor where more pupils will see it - of people using your subject in working life. Get creative, and get the pupils involved.

Set them a homework or research task: give each pupil a skill from your scheme of work and ask pupils to find photos or articles to illustrate the outcome being used in the working world.

You could also get your school involved with careers activities as part of National Careers Week in March.