How will this year’s GCSE/A-Level results impact the workplace?

02/09/20

Diane Hall

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You can’t have missed the kerfuffle around exam results this year, because of lockdown and the pandemic. Despite the government and Ofqual having months to prepare an alternative grading system, there was still last-minute panic, withheld results, and general confusion all round.


As someone with a child who was on course to get good grades as a result of her hard work, dedication and natural ability, I was extremely worried that standardisation would rob her of what she was rightfully due - because we’re not from a wealthy background and because her school has only recently managed to turn itself around and move up OFSTED’s ranking system.


The relief I felt when it was decided (long after other parts of the UK had made the decision, mind) to accept teacher’s recommended grades was immense. My daughter got what I felt she would, had she sat the exams. I was relieved that the circus around 2020’s grading would not hold her back as she progresses through college, university, and into the workplace.


But what will employers think about the grading? After all, the ultimate aim of education is to be knowledgeable and appropriately equipped for work. Having lots of numbers and letters on your CV is great, but does this have much clout with company bosses?


Some employers are still getting used to Michael Gove’s system, in which he changed the traditional ‘A, B, C’ grading at GCSE into ‘1-9’. Even now, it’s confusing which number corresponds to which grade under the old system, in order to bring context to a person’s grades. My point is, if an employer has to use an old yardstick to understand the new measurements, what was the point of changing them?


Research has shown that, overall, good academic grades equal a higher salary when looking at a person’s career in its entirety, though this depends largely on whether a candidate goes to university. GCSEs get a person into college, A-Levels can determine where and what a student studies at university. The aim of university, of course, it to gain a degree. Unless a student continues their studies, with such as a Master’s degree, this is the point where they will typically enter the workplace.


It’s a competitive market out there for jobseekers, even more so, due to the pandemic. In all honesty, employers can have the pick of candidates, and whilst academic brilliance may be favourable to some bosses, most employers want a mix of brains and job experience. A person’s results, therefore, may only represent half the package to most employers.

In some sectors, qualifications aren’t as important, e.g. trades, manufacturing, etc. Dexterity, practical competence and an understanding of the respective industry may go further when it comes to winning a role here than a raft of qualifications from someone who’s never been away from their laptop since entering education.


Some employers are also keen to mould the next generation, preferring an apprentice to a graduate from university. Apprenticeships used to be seen as the poor cousin in comparison to a degree, but today’s employers seem to see their value much more today. Young people undertaking an apprenticeship get a relatively equal balance of academic learning and practical experience, which is typically what today’s companies need. Stemming from the last recession, training budgets have all but disappeared; an apprenticeship, therefore, can appear an attractive and viable alternative.


It was claimed that someone with a degree could enter the workplace at a higher level than their peers who didn’t attend university. This belief has long since disappeared (unless nepotism features); it’s not uncommon for a new wave of unemployed graduates to flood the job market each year, some of whom take menial/entry-level jobs outside of their intended industry, just to earn a living.


It’s an uncertain time for all young people at the moment, and we won’t know the full extent or impact of the 2020 exam results for some years yet. Given how many people have been made redundant because of coronavirus, employment is a shaky subject for people of all ages.


The flipside could be that, as the job market is currently so volatile – and possibly will continue to be for a while – there’s no harm in delaying employment for a few years until the Covid dust settles, and attending university instead. Maybe this year’s results, looking at things from this angle, are incredibly crucial after all. Maybe we’ll see a record-breaking slew of degree-holding jobseekers a few years from now, due to coronavirus. 


Employers are unlikely to worry about this year’s exam result fiasco or the one that’s brewing for next year’s students. In my opinion, they’re set to enjoy the pick of what the job market has to offer for the foreseeable future.


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