What Do We Mean by a “Career Path”?

Written by Steven Marwick

When it comes to the Human Resources, Recruitment and Employment sectors, there is a lot of jargon bandied around that can feel confusing to people looking for a job or career in their chosen field. Many of these jargon phrases are a shorthand way for people within the industry to talk to each other, but they can get a bit lost on “ordinary” people sometimes. A phrase often used in this kind of context is a “career path”, so what do we mean when we say this? 

When we think of “career paths”, we see them as roads that lead throughout your career. They will have twists and turns and, if you’re unlucky, the occasional dead end, but will come to encompass everything you do along the way. You will learn transferable skills during your employment that you will carry on to other jobs, and colleagues will skillshare and help you to upskill at other jobs, so your skills will increase and accrue throughout your career. 

Career paths traditionally refer to a number of components that help to define the trajectory that you will take within the job market and the sector or sectors that you will specialise in. We have listed some of these components below and explained the relevance they have to your career path.

How a Career Path is Constructed

When trying to figure out what they want to do for a career, many young people feel a bit like they are lost in the woods, so think of a career path as a trail that you are carving out and choosing to make for yourself through those woods. You will be selecting the direction of travel based on your own actions, though the actions of others may have some bearing on your destination.  

Education and Training

Some form of education or training tends to be the first step on a career path, which can take many forms. You can finish high school and go straight into an apprenticeship in the subject of your choice or choose to go down a more traditional college or university-based learning route. There are a great many reasons to start an apprenticeship, and they can definitely be a beneficial alternative to consider. 

Whichever of these routes you choose, try to be sure that the subject interests you, as while it is doable, it is far from ideal to leave an apprenticeship or indeed a college or university course before they have been completed. This may not give you the kind of feedback that you would hope to take to the next potential employer. If you are absolutely sure that you would like to walk away then there is nothing to stop you, but it would be prudent to make sure you have a good reason for doing so. 

The education and training choices you make at this stage will largely colour how the next few years progress for you and the levels of employment and achievement that you can accomplish. If you are choosing an apprenticeship, you should make sure that it is the appropriate type of apprenticeship for you. 

Apprenticeships are sub-divided into what are called “apprenticeship standards”, and these set out what is expected for each of the subject areas. The subject areas correspond to real-life job roles so, for example a gas engineer apprenticeship would place the candidate with a firm of gas engineers who would help them to learn their trade in real-world conditions.

Considering Short-Term Prospects

There is a UK skills gap at the moment because of the effects of Brexit, the global pandemic and what is known as “the Great Resignation”, which saw 5% of UK workers leave their jobs in a single year. The skills gap is causing problems for many companies across different sectors and young people, in particular, are very much in demand to help to fill this and take up the slack. 

It is worth considering what the short-term prospects are likely to be in any job before agreeing to take it. Just as an example, if you decide to work in retail or hospitality, there is still the possibility of a new Covid variant shutting everything down again. It might not be a huge threat at the moment but it remains a possibility. Looking at short-term prospects vs long-term prospects can be hard and in some ways, an apprenticeship will give you good options in both of these areas. 

The short-term benefits of an apprenticeship are fairly obvious, you will be paid while you are taking part in the apprenticeship for all of the time that you spend on it. This includes the 80% of your time you will spend with on-the-job training and the 20% of your time spent on off-the-job training. This means an apprenticeship is in some ways comparable to having a normal job and it can help to pay your bills in a way that a standard academic course can’t. 

Long-Term Prospects on your Career Path

Because you will be working with a company already during your apprenticeship, your chances of having a job once it has been completed are very high, and your longer-term chances of career progression within the company are also very good. 

Because you started an apprenticeship while most university graduates were still studying for their degree and undertook the on-the-job training portion of it, you will have accrued skills and knowledge that will put you ahead of them in terms of practical experience for the job role. 

Before starting an apprenticeship, it is worth looking into the longer-term prospects of the industry you are interested in joining, as some may be declining and, therefore, less welcoming for apprentices. Read up on the predicted future prospects of your chosen career ahead of time and save yourself from having to retrain for another job in the future if your occupation dies out in the years to come.

These are some of the primary considerations when setting out on a career path. If you have been convinced of the merits of apprenticeships, please consider visiting our dedicated apprenticeship jobs board to find out about opportunities that are local to you.   

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Last Updated: Friday December 23 2022
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