With recent research showing the average graduate debt to be over £44,000 it is perhaps unsurprising that up to 40% of these graduates do not consider their degree to be value for money. We speak to Spencer Mehlman, Manager Director of notgoingtouni.co.uk (NGTU), a website set up to inform young people of the alternatives to a traditional university education.
Spencer, can you tell us a little bit about your working background and how NGTU evolved?
The majority of my working career has been in the recruitment sector. I have worked across a number of sectors everything from industrial staff in the early days to IT and finally I built my own specialist education recruitment consultancy which I sold back in 2006 to the UK’s leading teaching agency. I left that business a year later and has a few months off to spend time with my wife and my newly born son.
After a few months off I grew restless (you can only change so many nappies and play golf badly so many times…). I was lucky to get an approach from a bright young 18 year old called Tom Mursell. Tom had been accepted to study law at university but was interested in the alternative options available to young people. He realised there was not a website dedicated to showing these options and registered the www.notgoingtouni.co.uk domain. Tom asked for my help and I instantly knew what we had to do, there was a big gap in the market and we were going to ensure young people had access to these great alternatives, and so the company was born. Tom focused on developing the site and I started developing a client base and slowly but surely both grew successfully. Tom left after a couple of years and I have continued to develop and grow the business surrounded by a great team of about 20. I have now sold the majority stake to www.walpolemediagroup.co.uk who own the school careers & qualifications magazine “Moving On”.
Who are the typical visitors to the website?
Our audience comprises mainly of young people in the 16-24 year old bracket who are exploring all the options outside of traditional university. This can include anything from gap year options, school leaver schemes and apprenticeships to sponsored degrees and distant learning courses (and much more). We get over 130,000 visits a month and have over 45,000 followers on the social networks.
Have you noticed any changes over the years to how people use the site?
We have seen an increase in young people viewing our Be Inspired Case Study pages as they seek good careers to consider, also we were getting a number of emails from young people desperate for more careers advice so we launched our forum which allows them to ask our careers advisors questions and get a speedy response.
How has the content of NGTU adapted over the years to accommodate this?
We have grown the Case Study section to over 600 great examples that can be searched by a range of different criteria, and our forum has been made more visible and easier to use.
In your opinion, what are the main challenges faced by young people making choices at 16 or 18?
Where do I start? It really is a combination of factors. Schools are sometimes guilty of trying to hold on to students to improve their own destinations statistics. This is a particular problem now that there is a lack of face-to-face and impartial careers guidance at many institutions and many parents are poorly informed about the options available. There is also a lot of myths surrounding alternatives such as apprenticeships, for example, that they are all lowly paid and relate only to a small amount of sectors whereas in reality there are a huge variety of apprenticeships on offer. It’s hard for young people – choices need to be made at such a young age. They simply don’t always know what type of work they would be best suited to.
What advice would you give to them?
Research, research, followed by more research! They should take time to visit ours and other careers related sites so they know what the options are. Consider a range or roles. Have a plan B. But use other people too for your research. Find someone doing the job you are interested in and talk to them to find out the pitfalls and benefits of the work. Get a part time job whilst studying and get some real world experience of a working environment. But, importantly, choose your route for the right reasons – don’t just follow your friends because it’s the easy thing to do, or follow expectations that other people have of you. And when it comes to applying for jobs, make sure you prepare properly for interviews by researching the employer and having a list of questions to ask. Don’t be afraid to ask for the job!
What are your main priorities at NGTU for the foreseeable future? Are any changes planned?
We are keen to build on our growing audience and develop new products and ideas as we go. Last year we delivered over 600 school talks / workshops UK wide to help inform young people. This year, funding permitting, we would love to reach every school! Back in 2012 we brought out a book “The Guide to Not Going to Uni” – it’s probably time to do this again.
Finally, what can we, as a community of career professionals, do to help young people develop an awareness of the alternative options available?
Our overriding goal is to ensure as many young people visit the site as possible and get applying to opportunities. This will help employers get better results and will encourage more employers into this marketplace. With more variety will come more young people; together they will help each other grow. For anyone working in careers or with young people, please do send them to the site and, if you are able, get www.notgoingtouni.co.uk linked on your school or college website – that would be very much appreciated.
If you are a school or college based careers adviser and you would be interested in a talk/workshop from NGTU please email [email protected]
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